It's a danger most consumers don't consider.
"It just doesn't make sense when you buy a lock and someone else has a key to it, period. I would like to know that my key is the only one that fits the lock," that from Lock Expert Glen Peifer.
When you buy a mass produced lock, chances are very good someone else has the key to your home!
"It's all about revenue," claims Peifer.
"My mom always said you get what you pay for," Ginger Watson told us after just buying a lock.
Watson was pleased with the price of a dead bolt she purchased at a big box retailer, "$9.97 wasn't bad."
Not so pleased when we told her a little known secret. Peifer says most big box retailers carry only a limited number of different keys, for each brand of locks they sell.
"I would say it would be very low. It would probably be under 10 or 20," says Peifer.
Take Schlage for example. The company manufactures 30,000 different keys. A spokesperson for Schlage told us they constantly rotate the thousands of key codes they ship to retailers. But how often are retailers rotating their inventory?
At a Home Depot we checked, our producer found 7 Schlage deadbolts on the shelf - and all seven had the same key. Out of nine door knob and deadbolt sets, there were only two different keys available, meaning every other customer would have matching locks on their doors! Our investigators quickly found matching keys for several brands including Defiant, Gate House, and Kwikset. Finding a match to Ginger Watson's gate house-brand lock was as simple as matching a serial number on her key!
"It took me about 10 seconds to match your number," our producer told Watson.
"Wow," Watson said. "Scary. Because someone could be helping me in the store, look at the number - 'here you go ma'am' - memorize it. Grab the same thing right quick or wait and just trail me home."
The reason for matching keys and lock on the shelves is convenience. So that when you buy new locks you can find ones with the same key for the front and back door. But safety experts say that convenience comes with a risk in situations you may not have ever thought about.
Like handing your keys over to a valet employee. They can see the number right there stamped on your house key. What about those membership cards on your key ring that need to be scanned? Have you ever just tossed your entire set of keys into a drive through window? Safety experts say always separate your car key from your house key - lowering the chance of someone stealing your key's identity!
"Maybe they think what are the odds?" Peifer suggested. "But I think if they really knew what the odds were they would choose not to do that."
We asked Home Depot and Lowe's how many different keys are available in their inventory of locks. Home Depot said they don't break out the information we requested. Lowe's said they aren't able to provide information on inventory.
Schlage offers this advice: ask the retailer where you purchased your lock if they will re-key it for you. The safest solution - albeit the more expensive solution - is to invest in a lock that requires a custom key that cannot be duplicated.
"Do they not understand that the next customer that comes by and grabs this lock off of the shelf, that they have a key to their house?" wonders our Locksmith Peifer.
A possible key to danger, when consumers unknowingly risk security for convenience and lower prices.
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