How safe is your garage? Break-ins on the rise

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They crept in sometime after midnight, uninvited guests who showed up and left without anyone knowing about it, although my mother-in-law remembers that when she let her dog out around 3 a.m., it took longer than usual for him to come back to the back door. She didn't think anything of it at that time, but the dog kept looking at the garage.

Yesterday morning, in a tiny rural community in southeastern Indiana, my mother-in-law and brother-in-law's family (they live next door to each other) awakened to find their detached garages broken into. The cars were untouched, but numerous things were missing, like a flashlight and other expensive tools, a teenager's dirt bike and copper wiring.

"Copper wiring is very popular among thieves," I told my mother-in-law. "You know, it's nothing personal. With the way the economy is, people are getting more desperate." I started to try to explain to my mother-in-law that she could now consider herself part of this widespread socio-economic trend, and then realized that she really wasn't in the mood for hearing that.

When I later half-joked to a business colleague that thieves who broke into my garage and hauled everything away would be doing me a favor, he told me about garage hopping, a nationwide trend among some teenagers. Their goal -- to break into a garage through a side or back door -- and leave with everything they can, especially alcohol. Garage hopping has been happening frequently, for instance, in Manilus, New York.

In any case, if your home is your castle or fortress, the garage may be the weakest part of your defense. Recently, in Columbus, Ohio, there have been a rash of break-ins, and some of those, says police, have involved criminals breaking into cars -- taking the registration and the garage door opener. They then, using the information in the registration, Google your address, and can drive to your home and easily get into the garage, and sometimes the home if the door isn't locked, with the garage door opener. Then they load everything up in their car with the garage door down, and drive away.

A similar incident recently happened in Topeka, Kansas, where a man noticed some items missing from his car, including his garage door opener. He called his wife, who went to their garage and found two men, inside the garage, apparently in the midst of stealing everything they could. They escaped.

Granted, if a thief wants to get into your house, he probably can, but my guess is that the harder you make it for them, the less the odds of a break-in. If you're worried that your garage seems like the weak link in your safety chain, I'd strongly suggest -- especially if you have a detached garage -- putting up lighting, perhaps some with motion-detectors, so if anyone drops by in the dark, the light will come on once they trip the sensor.

You should also lock any side or back door leading to your detached garage, and if you garage is attached to the house, you should definitely always lock the door that leads into your home.

Tool sheds should also be locked as well, and well-lit at night.

If you have a garage door opener, definitely don't leave it out in your car for a thief to see.

And make sure everything in your garage and tool shed are covered in your homeowner's policy. From what my mother-in-law told me this morning, right about now, my brother-in-law is wishing he had done that.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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