Keys duplicated with smartphones raise safety concerns

Keys duplicated with smartphones raise safety concerns (Image 1)

These days you can do just about anything with your smart phone, and that includes duplicating your keys.

If you’ve ever lost a key or just needed another copy, you may have made a trip to a local locksmith or tried one of those do-it-yourself machines at hardware stores.

Now a new service allows you to duplicate your keys with simply a photo.

But is it safe?

“There are going to be people out there who could take advantage of this for sure,” said Captain Chris Atack, with the Carrboro Police Department.

The simple lock and key is age-old technology that we rely on to keep our belongings safe.

“If you think about actual key technology tumblers and such, it’s hundreds if not thousands, of years old,” said Paul Atkinson, president of the North Carolina Locksmith Association.”Every day [people] are constantly in and out having keys copied for their houses, cars, businesses, everything.”

He has been cutting keys at Marshall’s Locksmith in Raleigh for more than 20 years.

To copy a key, a locksmith simply cuts a blank key to match the specific pattern of cuts found on the original key.

Keys Duplicated

But a new company has taken that idea online. It’s called

You snap a picture of you keys, upload it to their site on your computer or smartphone, and they use advanced imaging technology to match the pattern of cuts and duplicate your keys.

They then ship you your copied keys in the mail.

But what if the keys you wanted to copy weren’t yours? Would it still work? WNCN Investigates decided to put it to the test in with some co-workers who left their keys on their desk.

“A lot of people don’t pay it any attention,” explained Atkinson.

Putting it to the test

It took WNCN’s Investigates team just seconds to shoot and send the pictures of the keys.

To mix things up, they used a separate name, the station’s address and a company credit card to see if it would raise any red flags.

The next day, the Investigates team had a receipt from saying the keys had been copied and were on the way in the mail.

The co-workers who volunteered their keys for the test were astounded to hear it worked.

“With this website, someone who knows what they’re doing could take advantage of that and could use it for criminal intent,” Atack said.

WNCN Investigates went straight to the company for answers.

“Obviously it’s a concern of ours — we can’t tell who is sending in the key but we will cooperate with law enforcement if anybody has any doubts about the origin of a key,” said Jordan Meyer, co-founder and COO of

The website said that security is a top priority. They say they don’t accept low-quality pictures — and you have to a have a shot of both the front and the back of the key.

A credit card is also required. But as WNCN found out, it doesn’t have to be yours.

“If all they require is two sides of a key and a credit card and an address to send it to, that’s not a lot of information to get,” Atack said.

So WNCN asked Meyer if he believed this service was safe.

“It’s really as safe as any other option out there,” Meyer said. “The fact is the standard key and lock system that most of us have in our homes is not actually that safe.”

WNCN asked Atkinson if his shop would be able to copy a key from a picture.

“Yes sir we could — but we’d ask a lot more questions because you’re coming in with a picture. For security purposes we wouldn’t just copy you a key,” Atkinson said.

Tricky for law enforcement

A case of key theft happened in Carrboro back in 2008, when a man was able to take photos of keys belonging to employees of the DMV.

“He was able to access copies of keys, make copies himself and use that to break into buildings, steal identities, steal information and commit identity theft,” said Atack.

WNCN was the first to inform several law enforcement agencies about the website. The Investigates team asked Atack if this new way of copying keys would even come to mind if they were investigating a home break-in.

“It’s tricky,” Atack said. “If you think of a traditional home break-in you’re looking for a point of entry, how did they get inside? You would not have a recognizable point of entry and that can be tricky.”

Keeping your keys safe

So how to do you keep your keys safe? It’s simple: don’t leave them out.

“If you leave your keys on a table, if you go to the gym, when you valet park your car, these keys are out of your possession,” Atack said. “You keep your wallet in your pocket, your credit card, your phone. Keep your keys in your pocket too.”

Atkinson says there are keys you can purchase from locksmiths that require an ID and authorized signature before any copies are made. Another easy, although expensive, means of protection is to invest in a home security system.

Meyer says his company is always looking for ways to improve their security.

The website also warns people not to post pictures of their keys on social media.

“Every change in technology or the way we do things has benefits and has costs and downsides and this is certainly one example,” Atack said.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

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