Website could provide easy access to duplicating strangers’ keys

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — With $6 and a smartphone, you can quickly and easily get a copy of your house key. Unfortunately, so can people with more nefarious motives.

An I-Team 8 investigation discovered that leaving keys unattended for just a moment can put you at risk.

Hand your keys over for an oil change? Check your car with a valet? Leave your keys on your desk at work? I-Team 8 found easy access to keys in all parts of everyday life. Scanning the WISH-TV newsroom, I-Team 8 quickly found opportunities to use a camera phone to go online and get a copy of a key to homes and offices.

I-Team 8 decided to test the website, which we’re not naming. We took a picture of an office key and uploaded it to the website. Quickly, we received a confirmation email saying the key could be duplicated. The copied key arrived in the mail less than a week later. It came in a small, while envelope that isn’t marked.

The key worked on the first try.

All the site needed was pictures from a phone — no actual proof it was the I-Team 8 office. The $6 also gets you a permanent code in case you’re locked out again. A locksmith would make a key from the code right on the spot.

Knowing the product worked, I-Team 8 then set out to see how often people leave their keys in a vulnerable position, and how easy it would be to take pictures of keys.

During a busy lunch time at City Market in downtown Indianapolis, I-Team 8 talked with people at tables. Without them noticing, I-Team 8 was able to photograph keys people left in plain view. Then, I-Team 8 told the diners what had just happened and that there’s an online service that would allow us access to duplicating the keys we photographed.

“That’s scary,” Samantha Alaire said. “I guess I’m going to keep my keys in my purse from now on.”

“Oh my gosh. That’s an invasion of privacy,” Anita Johnson said.

Of course, I-Team 8 did not copy their keys.

The company touts you can “copy keys from your couch.” But it defends any safety concerns. The company I-Team 8 used requires a picture of both front and back of the key.

“If you have enough access to flip the key over and take both sides of the key, then you have enough access to make copies of it by other means,” said Ali Rahimi, one of the company’s founders.

I-Team 8 found it’s easy to bypass that safeguard simply by making small talk — even with strangers.

Rahimi said the company has other safeguards in place.

“They have to know where you live,” he said. “They give us their address and credit card numbers, so they leave a pretty long paper trail that leads back to them.”

He said it would be easy for police to trace any potential thief that way.

I-Team 8 also found you don’t have to be close to get the picture. In 2008, a team of researchers from University of California proved keys could be copied from far away. Sitting on a campus rooftop, they took photos of keys sitting 200 feet away on a cafe table and made duplicate keys.

What about car keys? The website I-Team 8 used does not duplicate car keys but says it is “coming soon.” Some car keys have immobilizer chips that keep a duplicated key from turning the car on. It has to be programmed inside the key.

In order to protect yourself, take the following steps.

  • Take your house keys off of your key ring if you’re handing your car keys to a mechanic, valet or other car service.
  • If you’re not using your key to unlock or lock your home, keep it in your pocket or purse.
  • Protect your keys like you would a credit card.
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