12 INVESTIGATES: Duplicate keys to mass-produced locks

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Would you ever knowingly put a lock on your house that complete strangers could open? You may have already done just that.

"It just doesn't make sense when you buy a lock and someone else has a key to it, period," said locksmith Glen Peifer. "I would like to know that my key is the only one that fits the lock."

It's a danger most consumers don't consider. When you buy a mass-produced lock, chances are very good someone else has the key to your home!

"It's all about revenue," said Peifer.

"My mom always said, you get what you pay for," said Ginger Watson.

Watson was pleased with the price of a dead bolt she purchased at a big box retailer.

"$9.97, wasn't bad," said Watson.

Not so pleased when we told her a little known secret. Peifer says most big box retailers only carry 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," said Peifer.

Take Schlage for example - the company manufactures 30,000 different keys. A spokesperson for Schlage said they constantly rotate the thousands of key codes they ship to retailers.

But how often are retailers rotating their inventory?

I visited a local Home Depot and I also took a trip to Lowe's. At each store, I found dozens of deadbolts all with the same key.

12 investigates quickly found matching keys for several brands - including Defiant, Gate House, and Kwikset.

In fact, it wasn't hard to find the key for Ginger Watson's new lock.

"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," said Watson.

Key manufacturers tout the convenience of matching keys to customers who want the lock on the front door to match the back door. But safety experts say that convenience comes with a risk...in situations you may not have ever thought about!

A criminal may not go so far as to buy up a bunch of locks and try to find a key that matches yours, but think about how often you surrender your keys - the valet, the car wash. And 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?

Security 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?' but I think if they really knew what the odds were, they would choose not to do that," said Peifer.

We asked Home Depot and Lowe's how many different keys are available in their inventory of locks.

Home Depot said, "we don't break out the information you are requesting."

Lowe's said, "we 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.

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