Action 9: Thieves can use smartphones to break into vehicles or homes

by: Jason Stoogenke Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Thieves with a few minutes and $6 can use a smartphone app to copy your key.  Then, they can break into your vehicle or even home.

The app is called KeyMe.  You can scan your key and order a copy without having to go to the hardware store.  

But think how often you hand over your keys or leave them out: at the auto mechanic, valet parking, car wash, gym, or even work.  Criminals can use the app to scan your key and order themselves a copy.

"That's really freaky.  That's scary," said Charlotte resident Allison Berviglia.

Sounds far-fetched?  

Action 9's Jason Stoogenke copied a key belonging to one of his news producers, and helped himself to her home -- with her permission.  He downloaded the app, went around the newsroom, scanned her house key and ordered a copy.  The key came a few days later and worked.  Stoogenke got into her home and it only cost him $6.

Even more disturbing: The post office actually delivered the key to the wrong address.  While that wasn't KeyMe's fault -- it was the letter carrier's -- it was still a serious mix-up.  Thankfully, the neighbor who got the key turned it over to Action 9. 

Police worry about stalkers, not just burglars.

While many people think about burglars using this technology, police immediately worry about stalkers as well.

"That suspect would put in that time, would put in that effort, to use an app like this to obtain access to somebody's property," Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chris Kopp said.

KeyMe's response

KeyMe's Michael Harbolt said even though Stoogenke pulled this off, real criminals would be "putting their career, paycheck, health insurance and livelihood on the line by committing this crime."  

But, for those criminals who would risk all of that, KeyMe is always working on new safeguards.  

He also insists, even if the app makes it easier for criminals to copy keys, it's much riskier for them than copying victims' keys at the hardware store.  He says the app makes the crime far less anonymous.  "All the security protocols we have in place create a digital sort of paper trail that can easily lead us back to responsible party," he said.  In other words, KeyMe knows your Apple ID, credit card, mailing address, billing address, and email address. 

"Isn't it much more likely that a criminally-minded co-worker would simply take the key down to a local locksmith-- who accepts cash and doesn't have any accountability-- get a copy made from the physical key, then drop the keys off in lost-and-found?" Harbolt asks. "To put it another way, given a choice of the these two options-- one where you can easily be identified and one where there is no risk of being identified-- as a criminal, which option are you more likely to pursue when attempting to commit a crime?"

And that could be a big deterrent.  In fact, Harbolt said KeyMe sold hundreds of thousands of keys so far and has yet to hear of a single case involving the app.

Protect yourself

  • Keep a close eye on your keys
  • Have keys that say, "Do not duplicate"
  • When you have to hand off your vehicle key, take it off the key chain so at least theives can't have access to you home

KeyMe suggestions

  • Only share keys with people you trust
  • Assume that anyone with access to your keys can make a copy
  • Keep your keys out of sight as much as possible (in a pocket, purse, or drawer)
  • Change your lock if your key is compromised