Key to danger: Who else has a key to your house?

Source: WIS-TV video
Source: WIS-TV video

The key to your front or back door could be the key to danger. Would you ever knowingly put a lock on your house that a complete stranger can open? You may not know it, but you may have already done 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 is a danger most consumers do not consider.

When you buy a mass produced lock, the chances are very good that someone else has the key to your home.

"My mom always said you get what you pay for," said Ginger Watson, who was pleased with the price of a dead bolt lock she purchased at a big box retailer.

She was not so pleased when we told her a little known secret.

Lock expert Glen 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 about the number of keys.

Take Schlage for example. The company manufactures 30,000 different keys.

A spokesperson for Schlage says they constantly rotate the thousands of key codes they ship to retailers.

But how often are retailers rotating their inventory?

At one Home Depot, we found seven Schlage deadbolts on the shelf. All seven had the same key.

Out of nine handle and deadbolt sets, there were only two different keys available, meaning every other customer would have matching locks on their doors.

We 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 only took about 10 seconds.

"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 a shocked 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!

Maybe a criminal would 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, i.e. 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?

Safety experts say you should 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?" said Peifer. "But I think if they really knew what the odds were they would choose not to do that."

When 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.

"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?" said Peifer.

A possible key to danger, when consumers unknowingly risk security for convenience and lower prices.

Home Depot released the following statement in regards to this report:

The Home Depot produces up to three key sets keyed alike which is the industry standard. It varies normally by the number of locks in the case. If a manufacturer has small cases of say four pieces, they may key all of them the same. We use a computer generated number to produce the key alike number. The key alike number is basically a marketing code to help the consumer select locks in the store that are keyed alike. There is no way to trace the key alike number to the actual pins code.

Defiant has over 7,000 key codes. Other brands like Kwikset also offer 7,000 key codes. Schlage has around 30,000 key codes (6 pin configuration). The 7,000-9,000 code variation has been in existence for over 60 years. The number that is stamped on the key is the actual pin code. The only way to get a key made is if you went to a licensed locksmith with a key cutting tool.

Two key manufacturers offer these safety tips:

Lock manufacturer Kwikset offers the following security tips:

-Investing in security systems and utilizing available technology is one of the best ways to ensure your home is safe. Homes without an alarm system are 2.7 times more like to be burglarized.

-Kwikset's SmartCode locks with Home Connect technology offer an abundant amount of protection and can work wirelessly with your alarm system.

-The system offers keyless remote locking and unlocking, allowing homeowners to manage their security with their smartphones.

-System allows users to lock or unlock their door from afar, sends mobile notifications when anyone enters or leaves the home, and allows users to set temporary access codes for guests.

-Also comes with SmartKey re-key technology.

-When moving into a new home, it's important to re-key the locks because the previous owners may have lent the keys to various strangers.

-When renting an apartment or condo, speak with a landlord to ensure the locks were changed between tenants.

-If locks are old, rusty or poor quality, it's worth the small investment to install new locks to decrease the risk of being picked or broken into. Kwikset's SmartKey locks have passed the most stringent lock picking standards and also have BumpGuard technology to prevent the common break-in method of lock bumping.

Lock maker Schlage offers this security tip:

A lot of consumers select a keyless option. Schlage has a whole line of products that have keyless access where that homeowner can program a different code. They don't worry about losing, hiding, carrying or forgetting keys.

Copyright 2013 WBRC. All rights reserved. WIS-TV contributed to this report.