3OYS: Cyber keys open the door to danger

Posted: Updated:
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- How many times have you walked into work and dropped your keys on your desk? Maybe you’re at a restaurant and you put your keys on the table or bar. Here’s another one: handing your keys over to a valet. Well, you’re about to see locksmithing in a whole new way.

Locksmithing is something Marvin Sharp has been doing for 40 years. He owns and operates a locksmith company called Safeco Security.

"We pride ourselves on doing the work right and doing it with integrity," Sharp said.

But Sharp realizes that like many professions, locksmithing has evolved over the past few decades, and he's not exactly thrilled with what he sees going on.

"It's scary," Sharp said.

Scary? What could be scary about duplicating keys?

Well, it has to do more with how keys are being duplicated these days. There is a new method of duplicating keys called "cyber locksmithing," which Sharp doesn't agree with.

Search the Internet and you'll find locksmiths willing to duplicate keys if you simply take a picture of your key with your smartphone and forward it to them.

But is something like this really safe? If, in fact, it even works.

Valley mother Elyssa Haeussler doesn't know it, but she's going to help 3 On Your Side find out if cyber locksmithing works.

On our first visit, Haeussler thinks we’re doing a story on general home security and what she does to keep her family safe.

However, when she shows our photographer around her house, 3 On Your Side’s Gary Harper stays in her kitchen and snaps pictures of her front door key using his smartphone. It's a process that takes only seconds.

Then, Harper later forwards that picture to a cyber locksmith. After paying $6 and waiting three days, a duplicate key shows up in the mail. It's supposed to open Haeussler's front door.

Time to return to Haeussler's home and tell her what 3 On Your Side discovers.

“So, when we were here last time and you stepped out of the room, I actually took my cellphone and took a picture of your key, your house key, the key to your front door,” Harper told Haeussler.

She is just as interested as 3 On Your Side when it comes to finding out if the duplicate key actually works.

We put the key into the lock and it successfully opens the door with no problems at all.

"I'm in your house," Harper said.

“That's terrifying,” Haeussler said. “That is crazy.”

The key is a perfect match, and it was all made from a picture snapped with a smartphone.

It's shocking not only to Haeussler but to law enforcement as well. We showed Chandler police our results and they were alarmed.

"From a technology side, it's impressive, but yeah, it's certainly disturbing," said Chandler Police Det. Seth Tyler.

It's disturbing because when you put your keys down for just a moment and you're not paying attention, a picture can say a thousand words or, in this case, open a thousand doors.

It's not a fluke either because 3 On Your Side took pictures of three other keys belonging to the investigative team and sent them in to be duplicated. All three cyber keys worked like a gem when they were mailed back to us and we tried them.

Some cyber locksmiths try to reduce liability by posting terms and conditions that you have to agree to, such as, “I acknowledge this is my key, and I can provide ownership documents or lease agreements for the key being duplicated.”

But law enforcement agrees that will do little to deter criminals.

Haeussler says it's an eye opener.

"You just took a picture of my key," Haeussler said. "They didn't ask for your address or proof that it's your house. It's just, 'Oh, here's the key.' "

Remember, it takes only seconds to snap a picture of a key. Experts say your best bet is to always keep your keys in your purse or pocket.