During this slow time after the election I thought I would post an article I wrote for the newsletter of our state private investigators association.
The short answer is if you leave your keys lying around probably not. Only about 17% of homes in the U.S. have security systems. The rest rely on deadbolt locks and usually only one for each door. If someone had your key they would have easy access to all your belongings. These days they need not steal your keys just hold them for 20 seconds.
Advances in technology affect all aspects of our lives. Locksmithing is no different. Computer software developments now make it possible to create duplicate keys from photos. Just about anything you can purchase locally you can get on the Internet. A simple Internet search for “keys made online” quickly found 6 or 7 web pages offering to make duplicate keys from photos for around $5. Services willing to make car keys as well as home keys. I see the value in this service if you lived some distance from a hardware store or were traveling and forgot to leave a key with someone. It also has a dark side as a tool for criminals and stalkers.
I discovered how easy it was to order a key and wanted to see if it could be done anonymously. For my experiment I enlisted the help of my neighbors and spent a few seconds taking pictures of their house key. The service I chose offered a simple process. After E-mailing a picture of each side of the key you receive a message letting you know if the photos are acceptable and an invoice for $5 within a day.
My first step was to set up an untraceable e-mail address. I used anonymizing software with the TOR network to create a Yahoo e-mail account under a false name. Once I had the e-mail account I sent the pictures the service needed to create a duplicate key.
Next I needed to secure a form of payment. All of the services require a credit card for payment. I went to Target and paid cash for a VISA gift card that could be registered online then used as a method of payment on the Internet. I just needed to be sure the address to which I was having the key mailed was the same as the one used to register the VISA card. I paid the invoice and about a week later the key arrived at the PO Box and worked flawlessly.
I could have easily used the key to enter my neighbor’s house at will, stealing everything in sight. If I were a stalker I could use the key to place malware on a computer, plant listening devices or wireless cameras. Worse yet, a revengeful person could gain access to your home and plant drugs or child pornography then tip the police to have you arrested. Each of these scenarios is frightening and could significantly impact someone’s life.
I took precautions to hide my identity while ordering the duplicate key. I am not sure it was really necessary. Police probably would never consider the possibility a duplicate key had been made using a photo and online service. Even if law enforcement suspected this there is no way to know which service to subpoena, and not likely a service would respond or keep the information police need. With no signs of forced entry police may be skeptical and your insurance company might delay or deny a claim thinking you are trying to scam them.
How do you protect yourself? A fundamental concept in security is redundancy, multiple layers of security. Start with more than one lock on main entry doors and consider an alarm system. Having a key would be useless to a burglar without the alarm code. If you purchase a lock and the name of the manufacturer is on the key have a duplicate made with a blank that doesn’t make it recognizable as a front door key. Never leave your home keys with a valet or auto mechanic, leave only the vehicle keys. Above all, safeguard your keys.