Thieves Using Garage-Door Opener Devices for Burglaries


Jim Boyle came home from work one Tuesday and noticed his garage door was open. Strange, because he had closed it when he left that morning.

Inside his single-story house, someone had rifled through every closet and drawer, making off with $8,000 in leather jackets, fur coats, power tools and camera gear.

Boyle had received a rude awakening to the high-tech world of garage-door opener burglaries. Like cellular fraud and computer hacking, this type of crime is another example of criminals using electronic gadgetry to ply their illicit trade.

Police and security systems experts say burglars using electronic “code grabbers” can record and play back the signal from an automatic garage-door opener from hundreds of feet away.


When Boyle left his house and activated his garage-door opener, a thief with a “code grabber” was able to retransmit the signal and open the door. He walked in--and walked off with no telltale signs of breaking and entering.

“It’s like having a key to your house,” said Mark O’Keefe, a salesman at Street Smart Security in La Mesa, a San Diego suburb.

His colleague, Michael Lamb, 27, markets a device called a “code rotator” to combat the thievery trend. Each time the remote control is pressed, the code rotates to a new one, rendering a “code grabber” useless.

A state law passed last year makes it a misdemeanor in California to use a code grabber for illegal activity.

And Rep. Ron Packard (R-Oceanside) has introduced similar legislation at the federal level.

Lamb’s familiarity with the code grabber, which has surfaced in the past year, has made him an expert among law enforcement officials.

Lamb bought his, for demonstration purposes, from Kingfish Manufacturing in Long Beach, one of the only manufacturers in the country.

Jim Telenko, who owns Kingfish, said he designed the grabber for retailers and manufacturers, not criminals.


“I imagine thieves would want to buy it a lot like they would want to buy handguns,” he said. “But this device is perfectly legal. I designed it for the consumer.”