Smartphone app could be a burglar's best friend

Posted at 2:34 PM, Nov 12, 2014

It's a great idea: A smartphone app that can prevent you from ever getting locked out of your house or apartment.
But some locksmiths say it could have a darker side.

They are raising questions about some new smartphone apps like Key Me, which prevents you from ever losing your house key.

They worry these apps could also make it easier for crooks to break in by simply taking a picture of your key.

The Los Angeles Times said it bluntly, calling it "An app to turn an ordinary person into a criminal."

Locksmith warns about leaving key with others

Locksmith Rod Herdman is warning his customers not to leave their house key with any stranger.

"Anyone can make a copy of your key. It could be a valet driver, or an auto mechanic who has access to your keys for a short period of time," he said. "They could order a key, they have your address, and they could return to your home at a later date."

Herdman said if someone gets a hold of your house key for just a minute, they can now get the photo they need to make a copy.

"They tell you to lay the key down, take a photo, flip the key over, take another photo.  It's done, and it only takes a few seconds," he said.

Company defends app

The CEO of Key Me, Greg Marsh, defends the app, telling Wired magazine that it leaves a digital trail, as you need a name and legitimate, working credit card to order up a new key.

Plus, Key Me points out, you need photos of both sides of the key, so no one can snap a quick a picture at a bar or restaurant, when your key is just sitting on the table.

Finally, Key Me also points to the fact that there have yet to be any police reports linking home break-ins directly to its app.

3 things you can do

But Herdman says there are three relatively simple way to protect yourself, and make theft almost impossible.

  1. Herdman says have a generic copy made of your key, with a head that doesn't identify whether it’s a Schlage, Kwikset, or another brand. With a generic head, it's very tough to figure out what type of duplicate key blank to use. Each brand of key is different, and cannot be used interchangeably with other brands.
  2. Then he suggests asking a locksmith for what's called a "laser cut copy" of your key: It will still work in your front door but will be virtually impossible to copy. "Laser cutting removes all the peaks and all the unimportant parts of the key. There are no reference points to make a new key," he said. Most hardware stores, however, do not have the equipment to make a laser copy: you will probably need a locksmith's shop.
  3. In the very least he says, make sure you remove your house key from the ring when you hand over your car to a repair shop or bar or restaurant valet.

Not an issue with cars
And in case you were wondering, the Key Me app does not work for car keys, as almost all car keys made in the past 10 years have a security chip inside them. A thief could conceivable get into the car with a copy, but he could not start it.

Bottom line: watch where you leave your house key, so you don't risk someone getting a copy, and you don't waste your money.

Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.

Like John Matarese on Facebook and follow John on Twitter @JohnMatarese