Copying keys: New websites make it easy for you and for thieves

Copying keys: New websites make it easy for you and for thieves »Play Video

Hold on to your keys! New technology means you can quickly copy your keys, right from your couch. That means thieves can make quick copies, right from your key ring.

The technology allows you to take a picture of your key from your smart phone and order directly online. The company then mails the key to the address you choose.

That means we may need to change the way we handle and view our keys.

The KATU Problem Solvers did an experiment to show how easy it can be to steal someone else's keys. We asked people on a street corner in Northeast Portland if we could hold their keys for a short time. We held their keys in one hand, and in the other, we held a smart phone. We gave the keys back after 30 seconds, more than enough time to take pictures of the keys with the phone and order copies to be sent to our address, and we told them about the experiment.

"That is shocking. Scary, actually," said Adrianne Davis, who participated, along with her daughter, Olivia.

"You scared me," said Jack Strom. "Is that really real, though?"

It is real.

We showed them a website called Keys Duplicated, a company based in San Francisco.

You use your phone to take a picture of the front and the back of the key, enter your email address, and order a copy for $6.

Other sites and apps offer similar services.

Davis does not think $6 will hold thieves back.

"Yeah, you have a key to my house, my car, my storage facility," said Davis. "I don't even know what to say about that. That is scary on so many levels."

"It's as easy as that, is it?" asked Strom.

It is meant to be easy for you, the consumer. You can order keys from the comfort of your home. You can take pictures of your keys to have on hand in case you lose them. Just send in the picture and get a copy delivered to your door.

The CEO of Keys Duplicated, Ali Rahimi, said he recognizes that that his service could also be convenient for thieves. But he said he consulted with law enforcement about this, and was told that, though it could happen, it was unlikely, especially since thieves already have easy ways to get in to your home.

"I can imagine it being possible, but it would be so much easier to take a crowbar to that door and get in there. I think good, old-fashioned breaking and entering is so much easier than using our service for anything illicit," said Rahimi.

In Rahimi's view, keys may give some people a false sense of security. He said thieves have always been able to use key gauges, imprint clay or other devices to make copies without your knowledge.

"Actually, keys have never been particularly safe," said Rahimi. "They were unsafe from the day they were made. It's really easy to pick a lock. Even easier to kick down a door. Some keys come with their codes printed on them."

Rahimi said if thieves did use Keys Duplicated, they would leave a digital trail behind them, since they have to give their email address, a credit card number, and a physical address.

Rahimi added that it may be time for people to change how they view their keys.

"I think it's wise to remember that your key is an item that contains information about your door or lock and you should treat it like an item of personal information, like your credit card or your driver's license," said Rahimi.

Davis said she has left her keys on tables and counter tops without thinking that someone could make quick copies of them. Now, she may change how she handles her keys.

"That is scary on so many levels," said Davis. "Thank you for getting the word out."

Strom said people should be careful with their keys now.

"(I) handed those keys over to you," said Strom. "A lot of time, more than not, people easily let go of everything. And then once you lose it, it's game over, isn't it?" said Strom.

Editor's Note: You will see an images of a key in the video of this story. The key is for a closet door at KATU.

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