Pilfering in Paradise

This morning I received the following comment on a post related to Chiriquí Watch, however not recorded on Chiriquí Watch as yet.

All this sounds good,but,in the real world..Who knows.What I do know is two days ago the ladrones did 5 home invasions in Potrerillos and tied all the folks up. All 5 were close to the Dona Marie restaurant and were waiting to hear if it was just the gringo homes or were the Panamanians too.

So much for the new police station across the street

We were told our wives CAN NOT use our permitted guns should we be away from home and the whole bunch of us have ordered tazers ! You must stop these animals before they get in or who knows the out come if they don’t get whet they feel is enough !

I decided that it was time to post another, “We’re Not In Kansas Anymore” piece.
Panama continues to have its foreigner population grow. With the growth comes a whole new flock of people moving to live the the life in Paradise as portrayed by International Living and other for profit disseminators of retirement information.

If you are going to move here, then you need to acclimate yourselves into the mindset of living in a Latin American Country. Don’t come down here and think it is crime free. Be happy you didn’t decide to move to Costa Rica.

Compared to Costa Rica, it is crime free and closer to paradise for those that learn to understand it.

No matter where you choose to live in Panama, you need to plan for and prepare for a possible house break-in. Also, don’t believe the propaganda put out leading you to believe that some areas are void of crime. It Ain’t So!

Gated communities have their share of crime and sometimes it may be because of the false security given by living in a gated community.

So how do you plan for criminal activity in your area.


Bars on the windows are a necessity. I also mean well designed bars. Some of the older houses have bars that were poorly installed and easily removed or broken. Also don’t think that bars will keep all thieves out. If they want in bad enough, they will get in.

Personally, I like bars on the inside of the window as opposed to the outside. To get to the bars will require glass breakage and that in itself is another deterrent. Also a thief may approach a house, without obvious bars, unprepared. Bars will be a surprise.

Doors need to well be made. They also need to be equipped with very good deadbolts. Many, made in Panama wooden doors, fit poorly and leave large gaps due to the drying of the lumber. I prefer metal doors for all external doors.

Security SignHome alarm systems should be in the house design, if you are building your own home. Wired alarms are more secure than wireless, but difficult if the house is already built.

Wireless alarms and cameras are prone to reception problems with concrete block walls especially when batteries get weak.

Any alarm should have its own UPS in case of power failure. Many thieves will cut the power to the house before they try to enter. This also means that you need to install a metal cage around the master power switch for the house that is normally outside the house.

Security Cameras mounted out of reach to thieves are a good idea. Post warnings of your security preparedness and make sure it is in Spanish.

Installation of security systems should be done by individuals with a known background and references.

If you design your own home or if your home has a large sized walk-in closet in your master bedroom, I recommend you install a metal door on it. With that small amount of planning you have provided yourself with a safe room. If you build a safe room, test your cell phone in the room. Remember that landlines may be cut.

If you have a safe room, that is where you should have a safe, if you own one. It should also be as hidden as possible. If you have valuables in your house, no one should know except you. If you are the victim of a home invasion and it is known that you have a safe, they will demand you open it.

I believe there is no better investment in security than having an inside dog. If you have an outside dog, consider it as an expendable piece of security because they tend to get poisoned by thieves.

Neighborhood Awareness

You need to know your neighbors and your neighborhood. You need to be aware of unusual things happening in your area, such as an unknown cars passing by slowly and often. It is not a bad idea to take photos of strange people or cars in the neighborhood.

Our neighborhood is united with “WhatsApp”, a cell phone application. When something strange is happening a broadcast message goes out to all. One day a photo was sent and it was a photo of a man taking photos of the neighborhood. To my surprise, he was photographing the house I live in! The broadcast message asked if anyone knew the individual.

Your planning for security needs to be tailored to your specific needs. Rural security and city security may require different preparedness.

Remember that thieves don’t normally just show up and try to break in. It is more likely that they will observe your normal routine. You will be surprised how well your neighbor’s know your daily routine.

If there is construction going on in your area, be doubly observant. Crime increases in areas when new construction is going on. Workers going to and from work have been known to case potential houses.


If you hire a maid or gardener do good due diligence before you hire them. Talk to several past references. I don’t recommend leaving maids alone to clean houses unless you have many years experience with them. Well designed houses have bathrooms outside the main part of the house that may be used by maids and gardeners. Gardeners have no reason to enter the house.

They also should not have a key to your house.


You should have a list of all emergency numbers, Police, Doctors, Fire Department, Hospital, etc. I recommend having them in hard copy as well as your cell phone.
If you are a U.S. Citizen, I recommend that you have the contact information for the U.S. Embassy and the Warden in your area. Currently there are Chiriquí Wardens in David, Las Olas, Potrerillos, Puerto Armuelles, and Boquete. All U.S. Citizens should be registered on STEPS.

If you live in Boquete you should be registered with Alto al Crimen and have their number.

If A Crime Occurs

Obviously you notify the police. If you are in Boquete also contact Alto al Crimen.
I would also like to request that any known crime or suspicious activity be posted on Chiriquí Watch.

Here are a few of my thoughts about a maintained record of criminal activity.

First is the history. It is searchable and categorized. Bands of thieves move from Dolega to Boquete to Potrerillos and the patterns help identify if it is a new group or a known group. The history is also available to talk to local police and demonstrate an increase of activity. Enough publicity places pressure on local police and eventually potentially even higher. It is information to provide the U.S. Embassy for their communications with relevant Panama agencies. No data – no conversation.

Crime is increasing worldwide because of economic problems. I don’t believe it is any worse here than many other places, but it is different in that residents need to feel like they have to be a part of the solution. If victims only complain and don’t document the events, the events will be soon forgotten. I know of at least two murders of U.S. Citizens in David that have gone unsolved for over five years.

One recent murder in Volcan is well over a month old and I don’t think the autopsy has even been released. That crime has yet to be documented on Chiriquí Watch.

Yes, it will be different living in Panama than it was in the U.S. For me it is better and I love it. However, it requires the right attitude and planning to make it serve each individual.
There is pilfering in paradise and worse. But, as Roger Miler used to say, “you can be happy if you’ve a mind to”.

31 thoughts on “Pilfering in Paradise

  1. Great article…thanx. Glad to see you included the best and cheapest defense you could have in your home. A DOG or maybe 2 or 3. They are the best and all you get back besides their protection is unconditional love.


  2. Here’s a tip that’s worth repeating. It won’t keep your stuff from getting stolen either at home or on a trip, but it may just get it back if the bad guys get caught with the goods.

    1) Make a list of the serial numbers of your important stuff:: computers, cameras, tablets, etc. For things that don’t have serial numbers take digital photos.

    2) Send that list and photos to YOURSELF in an email. That way you have access to that important information anywhere in the world where you can log on to a computer.

  3. Great post Don. Although I dont live in Chiriqui or the surrounding areas, I live in Vera Cruz, I still read and rely on your posts. I do travel to David often and always like to be aware of happenings. You are so right, living here is Paradise if you know how to. Do not come here and expect to leave your windows and doors open and to trust everyone. YOU CAN NOT. Most places in the states you cant anymore either. Just live normally, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. And adopt a pup or two. They will be loyal to you and their home.

  4. Thanks Rob, Jim and Marianne for taking the time to comment.

    Thanks Old Salt. Infact, I had intended to say they should take photos and record the SNs. Sending to self via email is a good way to preserve it.

  5. Thanks Old Salt, that is a great idea. Will do that. I would be very suprised if we got anything of value back, but it never hurts to try. lol Another point I meant to make is, please ladies, do not come here flashing diamonds and gold, as much as we love to wear our jewelry, these people, most of them are poor. That is not an excuse it is reality. Just be cautious when dressing for a night out, keep the bling home or in your safe deposit box.

  6. Thank you, Don Ray for a very timely (for me), and important post.

    Here are a couple of ideas I discovered, but have not yet tried, since our own recent robbery. Perhaps others can comment about whether these two ideas would have any value in protecting the kinds of items that are frequently stolen.

    The first is a product called Shock Wave. An alarm system that is attached to individual items such as large screen TV’s and computers. Here is a video describing it:


    The other item that I’ve read about that SOUNDS interesting, though I admit that I don’t fully understand it, is a free download called “Prey” that is theoretically capable of tracking a stolen laptop and more. Here’s the download site:


  7. Great points, Don Ray. I have some questions for the messenger regarding the 5 home invasions in Potrerillos:
    Was anybody hurt?
    How many ladrones were there?
    Were they armed?
    Was it day or night?
    What did they steal?
    How did they get away?
    Did any homeowner use their firearm?
    Were these crimes all reported to the Police?
    What was the date of these occurrences?
    Isn’t there a neighbourhood watch program there?

  8. Thanks for the comment Gordo. I like the looks of the Shock Wave unit.

    I have the equivalent of the Prey service with my Apple products. It did track my iPhone when it was stollen. However, I keep my iPhone set with a lock screen to prevent entry- If 4 incorrect codes are entered on either my iPhone or iPad, I have them set to erase all data from the devices. I don’t want my address lists available to others. Since they can’t use the device without reinstalling the OS again or in the case of the iPhone, buying a new mobile chip. it doesn’t help much if stollen. It might if I didn’t use the screen lock, but I would rather loose my phone than to give out my contact info.

    Now Prey on a laptop or desktop might be a little different. I have a lock screen on my laptop and desktop, but they are not set to erase the data. I have considered encrypting my data on the external drives, but haven’t done that yet. Both the desktop and laptop have similar tracking capability to Prey. I would just need to turn off the entry screen that requires a password.

    I think both products are worth considering. Prey is especially worthwhile. if you are using Microsoft or Linux bases operating systems on your PCs.

    UPDATE I went ahead and downloaded it for my laptop and desk top. Looks like a worthwhile safeguard.

  9. A Car Guy’s Home Alarm Panic Button
    Put your car keys beside your bed at night. If you hear a noise outside your home or someone trying to get in your house, just press the panic button for your car. The car’s alarm will sound, and the horn will continue to sound until either you turn it off or the car battery runs down. If your car alarm goes off when someone is trying to break into your house, odds are the criminal won’t stick around. Also, remember to carry your keys in hand while walking to your car in a parking lot. The alarm can work the same way there.

  10. I live in Potrerillos & went to Dona Mary’s today & asked about the robberies… 1- there was only one robbery not 5. 2- it was a house in a row of rentals about a mile down the road toward the Terpel Station on the main highway. 3- I don’t believe this quite qualifies as a crime wave…

    But… I do have to say that all the safety tips outlined above were all quite valid.

  11. Just some interesting statistics about robberies in Panama.

    Robberies and theft climbed in Panama in 2012 to 30,342, compared with 28,103 cases in 2011, but the rate dropped in the first quarter of this year.
    In the first three months of this year there have been 1,490 cases of theft and robbery at the national level, according to data from the National Integrated System of Criminal Statistics.
    There have been 763 cases in Panama and 335 in Chiriquí. There were 110 cases in Colón and 107 in Veraguas. In the provinces of Herrera and Los Santos there were 70 and 61 cases, respectively.
    Thefts from residences topped the list with 371 cases.
    There were 259 cases of armed robbery, with Panama province registering

    –This information taken from news outlets in PC–

  12. The statictics are interesting and disappointing at the same time. What is missing is just how many were solved with an arrest of the near-do-well. Just an educated guess from me…..next to NONE!!!!

    You sheeple need to get on the program and adopt a dog or 2 or 3!!!!! The BEST, bar none, for personal protection. My only other recommendation is to put pressure on the government officials to allow weapons for personal protection without risking the theft, by the authorities of same. We all know what happens when you try to do the lawful thing. You get your stuff ripped off by them or they take their sweet old time in doing their phony ballistic tests. What I’ve been told by those who know is if you have a valuable or “assault type” weapon not full auto, they grab it never to be seen again. They add it to their own personal collections or sell it to the street.

    So my advise is to #1 get a dog. #2 If you decide to buy a weapon, only buy private and NEVER give your name or address or any other info the seller wants. Be careful you are not being entrapped…..say bye bye for a long time. And NEVER give it up for ballistic testing to make it legal. Just keep it safely hidden away but handy, in case of emergency.

    Enjoy your life here in “paradise”. ROTFLMAO…

  13. I am of the opinion that when a community has better things to do like gaze at the stars and lounge on the beach all the while failing to truly organize and take notice of serious criminal activities BEFORE they occur, this will continue. In this case the affected community is simply reacting after the fact. A reactive response is a day late and a dollar short where as a meaningful proactive plan to attack this type of problem that includes genuine vestment from the entire community could keep these cowards off balance and possibly prevent this from happening. This unfolding incident should be considered a wakeup call for those who believe that the locals truly respect you. In this part of the world if you delegate your personal safety duties to someone else then you have resigned yourself to being a victim.

    “ On Tuesday, May 28 five armed and masked men burst into the restaurant/hotel Rancho des Toro and brutalized and robbed, owner Joe Wilmoth and four guests.
    In an earlier attack 14 guests were robbed. Wilmoth had increased security after the first event including a silent alarm linked to the San Carlos Police
    The thieves approached the building on foot and brandishing pistols knives and machetes and attacked the owner and guests, one was pistol whipped, and another punched in the face before they were tied up with internet wire. Wilmoth managed to press the alarm before he was punched out but, according to witnesses it took the police 50 minutes to arrive, a drive local residents say would normally take five minutes.
    Witnesses say they they all carried guns, some had knives, some had machetes, and at least one had a bull-whip. The men gave orders in English with heavy Spanish accents and photographed the bruised faces of before leaving with a safe, mobile phones and personal effects. They escaped by car.
    According to Gorgona Vecinos Vigilantes (Neighbourhood Watch), the same night as the Rancho des Toro attack, the offices of Rio Mar were robbed.
    No arrests have been made and area residents are determined to find solutions to their security problems, claiming that “In the last year or so, there has been a murder, a couple of kidnappings, multiple break-ins and armed robberies targeted against foreigners in the interior…It is time to fight back.”
    Three community “safety” organisations in Panama are working together to fight these criminals: Neighbours Helping Neighbours (NHN), Alto Al Crimen (AAC) in Boquete and Gorgona Vecinos Vigilantes are working on this case together.
    A support meeting is will be held Thursday June 6 at 5 PM at Ranch des Toro We hope to raise money for a reward for information leading to the arrest of these criminals, and for legal fees to support the prosecution of these thugs.
    “There will be no weapons discussions, or sales pitches “ says meeting coordinator Rob Brown. “There will be presenting our plan on how we plan to identifying these punks, have them arrested, and convicted.”


  14. Thanks for a great post. Not all wireless alarms are created equally, In fact the new digital GSM base unit (with built in cell phone) is hooked up to an electric outlet and has a 48 hour battery back up. The screwed down window/door sensors and motion sensors are the part that is wireless and will notify you if the battery needs replacement. The best feature of these new state-of-the-art systems is that if your phone line is cut the technology is cellular based, so your alarm still works. False alarms do not bother the police or a crime reporting group but call what ever number is programed first, usually the home owner or caretaker. Six numbers are dialed and three texted if an emergency occurs and all units have a remote control key chain w/ panic button for easy operation. Fire alarms, flood and gas detection is also available for your alarm unit. A bed side panic button is great for those with a chronic medical condition. This alarm is portable and will work anywhere in the world, due to it’s quad band versatility. The ear piecing 130 db strobe siren will make it impossible for a robber to continue as they are sure to have ear damage if he/they remain.

    As for cameras make sure the resolution is 600-700 or the picture can not be used for a conviction in a Panamanian court due to clarity. For commercial and advanced use we recommend at least a 500 gb hard drive dvr to store video images for use up to two years. Also of importance is making sure it is an DVR/ IP or internet viewed camera so you can see your images from anywhere in the world with internet.

    Bars can be a false sense of security and can be easily removed with several easily obtained tools, regardless of how well they are installed. Also of concern is smoke inhalation if a fire breaks out in a home w/ bars.

    A GPS tracking unit can be installed to track your items to the criminal that stole them

    Our company Safe Home Security has many many referrals available and we pride ourselves in professional service and knowledge of our products and providing security to Panama.

    Please visit our website: http://www.safehomepanama.net or call 6759-4310 we do offer financing and hope to make our area a safe place for all of us. Thank you!

  15. One last comment as far as concrete or steel homes we have not had one problem with reception. For houses 10,000 sq ft or commercial buildings a signal booster will increase the signal of your alarm with out any signal problems, again we have several recommendations from those with 10.000 plus sq foot buildings with our alarms. Even large plate glass is protected with a frequency sensor that will pick up the frequency of broken glass. Our product is NOT like previous alarms sold in the area and we offer your money back if not satisfied!

  16. OK. The previous two comments are a commercial. Chiriquí Chatter has no affiliation with the company. Your due diligence is your responsibility.

    Maybe it is good. I can’t say and really don’t care, I do my own security planning and don’t trust anything I do not engineer.

    I will take issue with the way one part of the first comment is worded.

    “Bars can be a false sense of security and can be easily removed with several easily obtained tools, regardless of how well they are installed.  Also of concern is smoke inhalation if a fire breaks out in a home w/ bars.”

    My problem, with the way it is worded, is that it could lead people from countries that use few bars to prevent entry, into believing that there is a high risk of being trapped in a fire and therefore avoid installing bars.

    Yes bars can be removed with the proper tools. And with the proper equipment you can land on the moon. More burglars enter through unlocked doors than they do by removing bars.

    Fire risk in concrete block construction is much less than in the wood constructed houses in the states.

    I will also tell you this, if you choose to leave bars off your house and don’t install doors that are truly secure, you will be placing yourself at risk (Alarm or no alarm).

    Alarms can also provide a person with false security. By installing one you may allow yourself to think you are now protected. After all with a high pitched alarm screaming, no robber could stand to remain in the house. However, consider this. If a robber has planned enough to not allow bars to stop them, do you think they would also not come armed with noise proofing ear protectors. Then, after breaking in, the first thing they will do is remove the source of the alarm.

    Now don’t interpret this to mean that alarms are not a worthwhile investment. I am just saying that they are only a small part of a complete security plan and one that only you as the individual involved is responsible for designing. If you leave it up to others to design your system, without you validating the design, you have added another element of risk.

    Here is an excellent site for camera reviews. http://www.networkcameracritic.com

  17. Don,

    It takes billions of dollars to get someone on the moon and a $20 tool to take bars off of a window. I have a video of a concrete incased bars removed in about 45 seconds.

    One other point that was not stated by either of us is that doors in Panama swing in, not a good security measure. With one kick most dead bolted doors are opened. A new home owner should consider a door that swings outward, or possibly reinstalling.

    As far as fire, bars and concrete, I will let the experts speak for me:

    Produced by the
    National Disaster
    Education Coalition:
    American Red Cross,
    CSREES, and USGS

    The leading cause of death in a fire is asphyxiation, by a three-to one
    ratio over burns. Fire consumes the oxygen in the air, while increasing
    the concentration of deadly carbon monoxide and other toxic gases in
    the atmosphere. Inhaling carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness
    or death within minutes.

    Burglar bars and locks that block outside window entry must be
    easy to open from the inside.

    (WSVN) — A woman died after a fire broke out in her home and trapped her, she tried to get out, but this is a unit that has bars all around the windows.

    and as far as concrete is concerned:

    The Windsor Building Fire

    Huge Fire in Steel-Reinforced Concrete Building Causes Partial Collapse

    On the night of February 12, 2005, a fire started in the Windsor building in Madrid, Spain, a 32-story tower framed in steel-reinforced concrete. At its peak, the fire, which burned for almost a day, completely engulfed the upper ten stories of the building. More than 100 firefighters battled to prevent the uncontrollable blaze from spreading to other buildings. 1

    Nice to debate with you as I like to converse with someone with a brain…Thanks.

  18. You have no debate with me. I don’t debate with profit motivated people.

    I am not interested in your product nor the arrogance and sarcasm I perceive in your response. Your debate is over on this post. You got your commercial in. Best you leave it with that.

  19. Don,
    Did not intend to be arrogant or sarcastic, just responded to the information you put in print to the public. All I wanted was to give my comment and the other side of your view point. I apologize if you took my comments the wrong way it was not my intention to come across in a negative way, as I appreciate what you do. Yes we are trying to make a living, just like most people, but we also like keeping people safe.

    Have a nice day!

  20. Hi Lori,

    It is possible that I misinterpreted what you said. The written word is far from perfect. As I said, your ad had been made available. I am sure that those that are interested will follow up.

  21. Here’s the problem with doors that open outwards. The part of the hing there the pin is is on the outside and a hammer and screwdriver or chisel will easily knock the pin out of the hinges and the door will just fall out on its own.

  22. In Florida our code is to swing out and use an invisible hinge. This hinge permits the pin part of the hinge to be located on the inside of the building in a (carved out) pocket; the stationary wing of the hinge is attached to the door frame while the “swing out” wing of the hinge is attached to the edge of the door. This door will open outward, but the pin part of the hinge will be invisible to anyone standing outside the door.

    My husband Mike is also a builder and did this to several of our doors in Florida when the code changed due to hurricanes, for our insurance requirements. It was completed in a few hours and looks great.

  23. As former office manager for a Florida construction company and permit runner, you’re right. Doors on COMMERCIAL buildings MUST open outwards. It’s not required for homes.

  24. Let’s face it, if someone REALLY wants to break into your house there’s little you can do to stop them. Locks, deadbolts, bars on windows and doors simply discourage the least determined thieves. Your guard dogs can be poisoned, a truck with a chain can rip door and window bars out of the walls without much effort, electric power can be cut to prevent your alarms from working, and I’m sure we’ve all seen how police with those two-man battering rams smash down a door with one or two whacks. NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING is going to keep a determined thief out of your house or business if they want to get inside.

  25. Our insurance agency would not renew our policy unless we changed our doors to swing out. Here is a copy of part the mitigation form: A NEWER ENTRY DOOR (including side-entry garage doors) is rated for wind (bought as a new code approved door, or has a sticker stating wind pressures and impact). Doors that swing out withstand wind pressure better than those that swing in. Yes No to be checked by agent. Agent said it was the new SF hurricane code. Maybe we were “had” but needed insurance so we replaced the doors.

    In regard to your other comment: According to statistics, if a robber is looking at two homes and one has an alarm system, the other does not, he will rob the house with out the alarm. That is true on our street, more than two homes robbed with out alarms, ours never robbed with one. knock on wood. Thankfully, one of the homes now has an alarm and has taken other measures.

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