This article includes three videos from local television stations around the U.S.
The vast majority of residential door locks are susceptible to a technique known as lock bumping that can be used to quickly and easily unlock residential door locks. The mysterious disappearances of belongings from peoples’ homes is sometimes explained by this, since lock bumping gets a thief inside a home with no signs of a forced entry.
Lock bumping is achieved using a specially cut key called a “bump key”.
a typical bump key
While bump keys open pin-and-tumbler locks that have been in use for over 80 years, the use of bump keys is a recent phenomena, becoming popular within the past two or three years.
Earlier this year I was in an Infragard meeting that included a demonstration of bump keys. It is scary how easy they are to operate; with a minute of practice I was able to easily open residential locks. This is knowledge that I do not wish to have, but I feel uneasy knowing that common criminals are also learning about this.
Entire sets of bump keys that fit over 90% of residences are easily purchased from online sources, many of which are willing to sell to people who are not locksmiths. How-to videos are also readily available.
Laws still catching up
It is not universally illegal to own bump keys. Criminals may be able to escape prosecution on breaking-and-entering on the “I had a key” defense. When U.S. laws do catch up with this new phenomenon, many thousands of illegal bump key sets will be “out there” and homes will probably be vulnerable for decades to come.
Insurance and law enforcement
The use of bump keys as a means of entering a house is not universally known, which could lead to difficulties when dealing with insurance companies and law enforcement.
If someone robs your house and gained entry using a bump key, you may have trouble making an insurance claim. Insurance companies will suspect insurance fraud if you are trying to make a mysterious disappearance claim where there is no sign of breaking and entering.
Similarly, filing a police report for a bump-key related burglary may be problematic, as the police may wish to see evidence of forced entry.
Bump key countermeasures (things you can do to reduce the risk of bump-key enabled burglaries):
- Electronic locks
- Pets (which make noise when visitors approach)
- Security systems
- Bump-resistant locksets from Kaba (UK), Medeco, and Schlage Primus
If everyone were to run out and purchase bump-proof locksets or other countermeasures, home burglaries will not stop. Instead, burglars will return to other means for breaking into residences. But, I do not feel that people will be running down to their local home improvement stores and locksmiths for new locksets. Not in 2007 anyway.
WMC-TV Memphis, Tennessee, USA news story on lock bumping:
Fox-19 Cincinnati, Ohio, USA news story on lock bumping: