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LITTLE BITS OF CAUTION CAN DETER THIEVES

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Putting the Nintendo, VCR or computer boxes out for the trash collector after Christmas may be a great way to flaunt your holiday "take" to the neighbors, but a burglar is more likely to be the one paying attention.

Presents under a Christmas tree that sits in front of an undraped window, and shopping bags in the back seat of the family sled also are great shopping attractions for thieves, who can get in your car "faster than you can with a key," said Salt Lake County Deputy Susan Bailess.Once a television, boom box or other item has been taken, the odds of getting it back are close to zero unless it has been marked. Even then, the recovery chances are only about 50-50.

The sheriff's department investigated about 2,500 burglaries in Salt Lake County during the past year. The burglar entered the house through an open door 60 percent of the time, but many of the houses were burglarized because they fit certain criteria on a burglar's "shopping list."

Boxes stacked by trash cans give burglars a ready shopping list for all of the new and costly items inside the house, said Deputy Stephen K. Taylor, who suggested the boxes be crushed and bagged or burned in the fireplace.

Boxes often contain serial and model numbers that, if kept, can provide important information if an item is stolen. They're also useful if a new purchase has to be returned or repaired, Taylor said.

Something thieves really like is a good clue that lets them know nobody is home. Next to keeping doors and windows locked, concealing those clues provides some of the best protection against burglaries, Bailess said.

Security alarm systems, dead-bolt locks and many other anti-theft techniques have been around a long time, but technology has given homeowners a few more tools to work with. Lighting timers can be programmed to turn lamps on and off while you are away. Inexpensive motion detectors turn outside lights on if someone enters the yard. Telephone answering machines, if the message is worded correctly, allow you to let callers know you're not coming to the phone without revealing whether everyone is away from the house - and for how long. "Call forwarding" features also keep a burglar from successfully calling ahead to make sure nobody is home.

And to convey an endorsement for man's best friend, nothing alarms an intruder quite like a dog with a good bark. "The things that burglars hate are lights, locks and dogs," Bailess said.

What shouldn't you do? Most people know that booby traps are out, Bailess said. "Property isn't as important to the courts as human life."

Defending yourself or your family against an intruder who enters the house while you're at home is a different issue, but deterrence is the primary objective of protecting the house and its contents while you're away, she said.