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The garage isn't just a handy place to park or store household overflow. It also serves as a constantly open conduit from house to yard for many families with children, which often leads to items being stolen from the garage.

"Most is theft by opportunity," says Willie Reed, crime prevention officer for the Missoula Police Department. "It's an unattached garage that sits in an alley where tools, bikes, a lawn mower or something is taken."

The recover rate is not exceptionally good either, Reed says. The police are only able to return about 20 percent of the items to their owners because they have only general descriptions, no serial numbers and no personally engraved identifying marks.

"We monitor all pawn shops weekly," he says. "The recovery rate on items with items marked is doubled at least."

Even while your garage door is closed, you can still be a victim of crime if you leave a car outside, unlocked. Perhaps you own a second vehicle that also has a garage door opener, but leave it unlocked in the driveway. Somebody could easily steal the device and use it while you are not home. Would you notice it missing if you rarely use it?

Reed says that the best deterrent to this type of crime is having cautious, concerned neighbors. "If people see someone suspicious. Call 9-1-1," Reed says. "It lets us know you guys are paying attention."

In larger cities, news reports are abundant about how new technologies have added to criminals' arsenals of equipment to break into homes undetected.

"Not that there hasn't been that going on here, but I'm not aware of any of it," Reed says.

In the larger cities, some homeowners become vulnerable the moment a new garage door operator is installed. Both the operator and its remote transmitter contain dip switches that are preset at the factory. If the homeowner doesn't reset a specific code, a thief may be able to work the operator with a generic replacement remote available at most hardware stores. They can try random codes repeatedly until they find one that works and come inside.

Once in the garage, a thief can enter a house if a homeowner leaves the door unlocked.

To reset your code, grab a ladder, remove the operator's back cover and locate the dip switches. Choose a new code by sliding the dip switches on both the operator and transmitter. Make sure they match. Check the owner's manual of your operator for instructions.

Even if you take the time to reset your code, some thieves may still be one step ahead of the savvy homeowner.

With a simple code-grabbing gizmo purchased through an electronics magazine or built with parts from an electronics store, a clever thief may be able to operate your garage door opener, no matter what the code is. This device is basically a wide-band receiver that can record a garage door operator's remote code from up to 500 feet away. A homeowner can leave in the morning, zap the garage door closed and go off to work, thinking the home is secure.

A thief lurking ground the corner with this code-grabbing device can open the garage door, go inside and ransack the house.

Luckily, door-operator dealers are now outsmarting those criminals with remotes and receivers that have random, rolling codes. The receiver stores thousands of codes that work at random with the remote.

Another no-no people do is leave their garage door's remote in the car while it sits in a parking lot. It's the same as leaving their house keys behind. After all, their home address is usually in the car, printed on the automobile's registration and insurance forms. If someone breaks into a car with a garage door opener in it, they essentially have the house key and address, and they know the owner is not at home.

Many door operator manufacturers now have the remote on a key chain, which means your car keys are attached to the opener and will be carried with you, not left in the car for a would-be thief to steal.

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