June 02, 2004

Curious, George: Am I paranoid, or are they out to get me? Someone has been letting himself into my apartment when I’m not there. What can I do to prove it?

A few months ago, I came home one Sunday evening, after having spent the weekend away. When I walked in to my apartment, there was a really strong scent of men's cologne, cheap cologne, in the hallway of my apartment. The way the scent lingers after the person has left. It unsettled me a bit, and I wound up calling my sister and talking to her on the phone as I walked around my apartment opening the doors to all my closets and so forth, in case anyone was hiding inside. (I know that sounds kind of silly, but I had that gut feeling that someone had been in my apartment, and I didn't know what else to do.) Nobody was there, of course, and I figured that the scent must have probably wafted in from the hallway, and I forgot about it. Until last night. Returning Tuesday evening after a long holiday weekend away, I hadn't been in my apartment since the previous Thursday morning. My twice-a-month housekeeper came yesterday, and I came home to a snugly made bed. When I pulled down the comforter, there is was. That scent. All over my sheets. Yes, I am having the locks changed, and no, I’m not going back until they’ve been changed. But what if it's either a) the landlord, or someone with access to the landlord's keys, or b) someone with access to the housekeeper’s keys? I seriously doubt it's the housekeeper, I’ve known her for years, and she’s thoroughly vouched for by two different friends who have known her for many more years. Besides, the timing of the first incident rules out the housekeeper. Just because I trust her, however, doesn't necessarily mean that everyone around her is to be trusted. How can I calm that small paranoid person inside me who knows that someone, unknown to me, has been entering my apartment and doing who knows what? Nothing is missing, that I’ve noticed, but if someone rifled through my drawers I wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell. I don’t want to booby-trap my home, obviously, but is there something simple that I can do to give me some peace of mind- so that if someone does come in again, I would have some tangible proof of that? (I can’t exactly go to the police based on “my sheets smell like Old Spice.”) I really like my apartment, and I don’t want to move unless I absolutely have to. I’m hoping that changing the locks will take care of it. But if it doesn’t, I need to know. Any suggestions? (cross-posted on MonkeyFilter and AskMe for more answers)

  • Put a glass of water behind the door? That way, if you spill it you know no one entered your apartment. /got nothing, sorry.
  • Some brainstorm-type ideas: I wonder if hiring someone who could be a reliable "expert"-type witness would work -- say a private detective or a security guard. Someone who is willing (or is paid) to check your apartment when you leave and compare it to when you return. Ask the police for advice, tell them your suspicions. They probably won't be able to help but they should file a report as well as help you confirm what you think is happening. Take photos of the contents of your drawers, closets, cupboards, bathroom cabinet. Keep them on you. Compare them when you get home to see if anything has been shifted. Get a friend (male, possibly, for extra security) to stay for a few days. Leave some men's clothes or shoes around the apartment to imply that a man is staying there. Install an alarm and threaten the housekeeper on pain of death (well, maybe don't go that far) to keep the code to herself. Get the housekeeper to come when you're home so you have to let her in. Get your keys back from anyone who has them. Set up a webcam. Find out what cologne your landlord wears.
  • The above are mostly preventive ideas as opposed to finding out whether or not someone has come in while you're out. The webcam would do it, though.
  • I saw in a James Bond movie that he put a hair across the door jamb (held with spit I think) while he went downstairs to a cocktail party. When he came back the hair had been dislodged. Lots of fighting followed. You'd have to experiment to see how long your spit will hold if you are going for long weekends though. [shawnj] you are doing my head in with that set-up :->
  • Not paranoid at all, ambrosia. Somebody's been sleeping in your bed, and it ain't Goldilocks. Motion-detector camera aimed at door. But this costs money. Maybe you could lease one.... Same-color-as-underwear cotton thread laid under first layer in underwear drawer. Targets with the ten-ring shot out casually laid on coffee table next to a copy of GUNS AND AMMO. Do you know your landlord? Can you talk to him or her? How about your neighbors -- have they seen anything? Does the apartment have a security system? Most systems keep logs of activation/deactivation times.
  • Ambrosia - you're not paranoid in the slightest. Something to consider: who other than the people you are with know that you're not in town when you're gone? If this is really only happening while you're gone on long weekends that sounds like it's someone who knows you well enough to know your schedule.
  • do you live in a big building with lots of units? does the landlord live on-site? could your cleaning lady have someone with her helping out who wears that cologne? i don't know too many guys who can make a "snugly-made bed" so i'm thinking perhaps it's someone your cleaning lady knows. and if they made the bed with that cologne on their hands, it would indeed linger that long. let your landlord know for sure, and tell him/her you are worried. they should have some suggestions for you. and let us know if you find anything out! oh, and try to trust the world. really. good karma out, good karma returned.
  • Get a friend (male, possibly, for extra security) to stay for a few days i like that idea! let me move in. i'll play video games and sleep on the couch. also, i have nice cologne.
  • The hair trick does work, but it's not totally practical for long weekends or situations where your housekeeper will be coming and going. A motion sensor hooked up to a video camera set in an inconspicuous place with a good view of things could work though.
  • Ninjas.
  • Ninja Monkeys! We'll hide in your apartment and kick some interloper ass. In all seriousness, I sincerely hope this gets resolved for you SAFELY and quickly. Good luck, and please keep us posted.
  • I'm intrigued... Do you have any reason that someone would want to know more about you? Are you politically active? Have friends who are? or are Muslim? I recently heard about Brandon Mayfield, the Oregon lawyer wrongfully connected with terrorist bombings , say that he had noticed a deadbolt lock he left UNlocked was LOCKED several times before he was arrested by the FBI. In these times, privacy is no longer a right. SUGGESTION: leave 1 lock unlocked? or sprinkle a little bit of flour on the floor by the door. simply wipe it up when you get home. Any attempt to change it should be easily noticed.
  • Also , keep us posted on the outcome!!!
  • Webcam is the best, preferably with a big enough hard drive to just grab an image every minute or so.
  • I would make sure that everyone you know is made aware of the fact that you know someone has been in your place. If everyone knows you know, then eventually you tell the person who knows what is going on. Hopefully, that will be enough to let the person know the jig is up. Peronally, I would have freak out and called the cops. I would be raising holy hell with every suspect I could imagine.
  • Thanks everybody. This has had me kind of freaked out. It's a smallish building, 10 units, 13 or 14 people in total. Landlord does not live on-site. One of the tenants is the official "liaison" with the landlord, and I called her today about getting the locks changed (and she sounds just as interested as I am in solving this.) She plans to have the landlord change the locks tomorrow morning, so he will certainly know why. The thing is, between work and hanging out at my boyfriend's house, I'm not there much, and it wouldn't take too long for someone to notice that I'm rarely there on weekends. It's an older building (1930's construction), no alarms, but I've always felt pretty secure. I'll be having conversations with the landlord and that housekeeper about why the locks are being changed, so without making accusations they will at least be on notice that someone's been up to something fishy, and that I know about it. I'm hoping that will end it, but I might look into the motion-detector webcam thing. (Anyone have any thoughts about how well those things work on a Mac?)
  • Get a USB-based webcam and find some Mac software that will do the motion detection for you. I'm sure someone knows of a ConquerCam equivalent. iMovie might even do it for you.
  • Targets with the ten-ring shot out casually laid on coffee table next to a copy of GUNS AND AMMO. Heh. I keep a copy of FBI Law Enforcement bulletin -- which I get for free at work -- on my passenger's side seat in my car. Works wonders. But ambrosia, I really like the web cam set to motion detect idea. If you have halfway decent resolution on the camera that should work out really well. And even if the police can't do anything now, go to them anyway. Sorry to say this, but if your landlord turns out to be a perv and has cameras installed in your apartment, it will help to have a record of your concern about possibly unauthorized entry. I also like the idea of leaving a pair of men's boots and a few other manly artifacts around the apartment. It may be enough to scare this creep off. Anyhow, good luck to you.
  • And ambrosia? If you smell that stuff in the hallway again (or detect anything that's the least bit hinky), do yourself and us a favor and do a walkthrough while you're on the phone with someone again. As everyone has said, this ain't paranoia. But I'm down with the ninja monkeys. Blaise, shiny and I can suit up at a moment's notice.
  • I'm wondering if it's a relative or maintenance man for the landlord (access to keys) or your on grounds liason for the building. It maybe the housekeeper is having an affair? Do you live on second floor or first floor? (watching down on you when you leave) Do you leave w/ suitcase(s) on long weekends/trips? People see these things and ... Also, throw out foods and toothbrush when this happens- who knows what (they) are using in your apartment. WEBCAM!!!!! Do not tell anyone other than your sister/family about webcam- you need to catch this bastard. You also should go tell the police ASAP!!! You need to have this on record.
  • throw out foods and toothbrush when this happens- who knows what (they) are using in your apartment Oy. I'm already trying not to think about that scene from "The Sopranos" where Paulie Walnuts goes through Adrianna's lingerie drawer and sniffs her underwear. But yes, you're right.
  • Some thoughs: Maybe there's no actual stalker/harraser. Maybe some darn horny kids with to much money connected to the landlord use your appartment as some sort of motel room. If this is righ, after talking to you landlord about changing locks he will probably stop letting kids there or at leas will make them be more careful and don't use cheap cologne. Maybe, there's an actual stalker/harraser. But he knows you from MoFi or MeFi and could actually be reading this threads, so you better be more imaginative and try something you didn't read here or in MeFi. One suggestion. I don't know if this could actually work, but, if it could work, it will despite the harraser knowing your plans beforehand. Change yourself, change your habits, change your appartment, change your clothes. Use different perfumes. In short, unsettle him. Most stalkers are fixated with your superficial self, not your inner self, if you change yourself the stalker will feel disturbed and either he stops what he's doing or he'll become more obvious, more present, like warning you not to change. If the latter happens then you'll got more possibilities to nab him or any evidence for the police. One special recomendation, change your smell, use strong perfumes or even colognes, or spill strong perfumes, or any kind of weird odor in your house. Weird guys are attracted more by the smell. Doing something with aromas will unsettle them the most.
  • Are you in Colorado, ambrosia? If you are, email me.
  • Maybe you can also get your boyfriend to come over more often? After a while, the prolonged presence of a(nother) male person might deter or throw off the stalker/intruder/scumbag. Maybe get a pet? Although since you're not around most of the time, it might not be the best idea. Please be careful, ambrosia. Keep us posted! Paste a sign on the back of your front door with "Scumbag! I'm watching you!". That should give him a bit of a shock! /half-serious
  • This is freaking me out. Don't forget to let us know what happens.
  • wow. zemat is truly intuitive about this. he's right about how a subtle move could push a possible lurker to show his/her hand. make sure to know every detail of your private spaces well. perhaps set-up casual visual traps in such places, to know if they are disturbed. is this aroma more specifically familiar to you? have you noticed it in the halls or in the vicinity of your landlord or other males whom see you regularly? unfortunately, i doubt that the police are going to take ambrosia's sniff test very seriously, unless there is some collaberating evidence that there is a threat.
  • Seems to me that having someone staying with you for a while would be a good idea, especially if that person's schedule is the opposite of yours. The sacrifice in privacy would more than be made up for by having some support. Would your boyfriend be willing to stay over for a while? I think (hope) that the intruder is someone who's not that agressive at this point, and could be deterred by other people staying there. And, is there any way you could have locks changed without giving the landlord keys? Some local locksmith who could put in a new deadbolt on the sly? And, do talk to the police, even if it seems pointless.
  • This and this seem as if they might be useful, ambrosia. Take this seriously -- it's a case where it's far better to be over-cautious than otherwise. Wishing you the best of luck.
  • Jeebus. Aside from all the other terrific suggestions here, you may want to put clear scotch tape low on the door across the door jamb - if it's broken when you return, that will be proof that the door has been unlocked in your absence. Good luck and let us know what happens....
  • I don't have any advice for you ambrosia, but I wish you good hunting while you nail this sleazy fucker to the wall. ... Of course, I'm not suggesting anything stupid, but we all have to admit we'd like to see her not only solve her problem, but also get this guy off the streets. On the subject of home defense, I highly recommend a shotgun. Besides the obvious perk of not needing great aim, ideally the gun need never be fired. In the dark a small object in your hand (pistol, knife, pepper spray, phone) could be anything. But there is NO sound in the world like a shotgun being cocked. ... I would like to point out my polilcy of nonviolence. I don't advocate shooting anything. Unless they have thier nose in my panty drawer. Then it's go time.
  • Make sure you keep a close eye on your financials! If you have any credit card statements or checkbooks lying around, the intruder could potentially have opened credit in your name. I highly recommend placing a fraud alert on your accounts via all 3 major credit bureaus. They'll send you a free copy of your credit report, and will guarantee that nobody can open a new account in your name without calling you at home first. (Plus, the added bonus of stopping all unsolicited credit card mailings to your home for the next 5 years. Less junk mail is a good thing.)
  • If you don't really suspect Rosita the cleaning lady or your landlord, then changing the locks won't stop a lockpicking wino or crackhead from... sleeping or whatever in your bed. Picking locks is pretty easy. Or, so I've heard. You could get one of those door alarms that just hangs over the doorknob for pretty cheap. Assuming it's loud, I doubt anyone would stick around when that puppy goes off.
  • Oh, good idea jaypro. The mefites have it, too. For your own safety, don't expose your hand. If you get a camera, hide it. Don't leave notes, don't do anything to let the person know you know. If they are dangerous (unlikely, but not impossible), you don't want them to feel like they've nothing to lose. And we like you, and don't want to lose you.
  • If you go for the camera (costly, but the best bet by far), get the excellent BTVPro software; among many other features, it allows for automatic recording when motion is detected, complete with timestamps. It works with any firewire or usb camcorder/webcam. You'll need to get creative with hiding the camera and computer. In fact, it even has an option for uploading frames to a webpage, which I haven't used. Which could be convenient for you to check off-site. Hope it's just some overzealous and over-cologned cleaning helper; take care.
  • Ah, and the BTVPro programis for the Mac. And btw... have you checked thoroughly your place, for signs of tampering/modifying? Any tiny holes, some wire you don't recall; have you checked AC vents, smoke detectors, lamp fixtures, sound baffles or your stereo? Some wacko could put microphones/wireless cameras there. Maybe you or your bf have some tech friend that can help with detecting hidden cameras or transmitters, if any... And, also, you don't happen to work for Kerry or Nader's campaing team, do you..? /half-serious
  • >>wow. zemat is truly intuitive about this. hmmm.... zemat, what kind of cologne do you wear???? ;-)
  • zemat is truly intuitive about this. I think zemat has an overactive imagination. I'd say "stalker" is pretty far down the list of likely explanations; most likely: somebody found out the place is empty on weekends (or whatever the usual pattern is) and is simply using it as a handy place to crash. And all the suggestions about tape, hairs, glasses of water, &c are pointless -- she's not trying to find out if someone's entering the place, she knows that already, and telling the cops "The hair was broken!" isn't any better than "There's cologne on my bed!" Definitely tell the cops, to get it on the record, and be careful about the financial stuff. The only useful suggestion for detection is the webcam: do it! And, needless to say, keep us posted.
  • If you do decide to go the webcam route, tell no one about it, not even your liaison neighbor. Or us. Not even after a frustrating day or week or month of nothing on tape and all of us begging you for an update. Be patient, wait for the results, and if you get them, show it to the police. Wait for the arrest and THEN tell us all about it. There is no telling who it is and information about a hidden camera given to the least likely suspect could eventually filter back to the intruder. If you want to catch this person in the act, you can't let on that you're trying to catch them in the act.
  • Thanks everybody! In the meantime, my boyfriend will be staying over at my place with me much more frequently over the next few weeks. If my landlord weren't so fervently anti-dog, I'd borrow my boyfriend's dog- a 110 pound shepherd/rottweiler mix- he's a marshmallow of a dog but pretty intimidating looking at first glance. I've learned to trust my instincts in these types of situations- I'm not going to second-guess myself when my gut is telling me that something is *wrong*- but at the same time, I really don't want to be taken over by fear. I am hoping that changing the locks and conversations with both the landlord and the housekeeper will put a stop to it, but I'm actively looking into the webcam setup for an objective confirmation of whether or not changing the locks ended it. And putting the fraud alert on my credit reports is just a good idea anyway, so I'll do that too. And if anything comes of it, I will keep you all posted!
  • Good for you ambrosia. I'm with SideDish on this one too, it's not good to become untrusting of the world. If you go for visualization at all, one thing to do is imagine your entire apartment filled with white light and imagine only welcome people entering your space.
  • wow. zemat is truly intuitive about this. thanks, dxlifer. Yet, as languagehat pointed out maybe I got over the top. Sidedish: hmmm.... zemat, what kind of cologne do you wear???? |:) HehehehehahaHAHAHAHA woops! Actually none, I hate them. languagehat: I think zemat has an overactive imagination. I'd say "stalker" is pretty far down the list of likely explanations; most likely: somebody found out the place is empty on weekends (or whatever the usual pattern is) and is simply using it as a handy place to crash. Hey! I proposed the crashing site scenario first! And who do you are calling overactive? Focusin has no side effects no matter what "The Simpsons" say. Now stop with your dire accusations or I'll soak your bedsheets in cheap cologne too!
  • Get in touch with a private investigator. There are a number of simple and cost free methods of determining IF someone enters your apartment. If it is then necessary you can move on to the next step of IDing said person(s).
  • Hi everyone- I had an interesting chat with my landlord. It turns out that all of the units in the building were keyed on a master key. In other words, my building has been pretty much wide open to anyone who has ever been given a key to any one of the apartments with the determination to reverse-engineer a master. Not only that, he keeps a spare master key hidden somewhere on the property for his use in case of emergency. He acknowledged that someone may have seen him retrieve that master key from its hiding place, and made a copy. Now that the locks have been changed on my door, my apartment is off the master key system. I'll be having a chat with the rest of my neighbors, though.
  • ... !! ??????? ( ____________ ) That is the sound of my mind boggling. The doors were just there for decorative purposes, then? Good to know it probably won't happen again, though - hope you feel safer now!
  • So, when you moved in, did you sign some sort of liability release stating that you didn't mind IF THE WHOLE DAMN NEIGHBORHOOD TRAIPSED THROUGH YOUR APARTMENT? Sheesh. Flash: boggled indeed. Doors fer hangin' a wreath on at Christmas or sumptin, I guess.
  • Holy crap. That's utterly ridiculous. Glad to know that (hopefully) these odd visits have come to an end. Stay safe, and let us know if you need some Monkey intervention.
  • Doors fer hangin' a wreath on at Christmas or sumptin, I guess. Don't be silly, GramMa. Everybody knows that doors are for keeping the drafts out at night. Ambrosia, glad that this is resolved. Keep an eye out though, for a little while, in case it's not so simple.
  • Thanks for posting the update, ambrosia - glad you're ok. If it were me, I'd start seriously looking into moving. ::creepy:: Best of luck!