I went to the Stasi Museum in Leipzig back in 2017. It was fascinating beyond anything I could have imagined to learn what life must have been like in a police state run by the Stasi.
The tour guide was saying how the Stasi enforcement officers would break into your home by making copies of your key behind your back.
Unlike the famous film The Lives of Others, where the police knock on your door and barge in, the real Stasi were more wily. They would, for instance, visit your children’s school, find their house key inside a coat pocket on a clothes peg with their name on it, push the key into a block of plasticine to get an impression, and then create a key in a workshop from said impression that would work inside the lock.
Using a real key copy, they could break in undetected while you were away at work. No need for a lock pick that might arouse the neighbours’ suspicion.
Can that happen to me?
The answer is complicated, but the short answer is: pretty much no.
It’s theoretically possible, but impractical to do. Here’s why:
The locks in the UK use an astonishing variety of key blanks. This fact alone makes it quite difficult to simply make a copy from an impression. Many blanks have built-in security features like magnets and side-bars that make them basically impossible to copy without a genuine blank to hand. The locks in East Germany were much simpler and there was less variation between them.
On top of this, you’d need plenty of technical prowess, a well-stocked workshop and plenty of time.
If I think about it, it’d probably be easier just to break in through the window or something…
What if he takes my key to a key-cutter?
That’s a fair point. A thief could always take your keys from you while you’re not looking and get a copy made in their lunch break. Then they’d put them back where they found them afterwards.
They could do that. But then, they might fall victim to the problem mentioned above: there’s such an immense variety of key blanks in use in the UK that it’s well possible that the key-cutting shop doesn’t have access to a suitable blank.
Am I being paranoid?
In all my years, I’ve never heard or experienced a case where a thief creates a key from a clay mould, nor where any locksmith has been accused of cutting keys for someone who shouldn’t have had them cut.
I’m not saying it has never happened before, but in order for the thief to make copies of the key, they need (a) unfettered access to your keys for enough time to go to a locksmith shop; (b) a locksmith who has the right blank within easy reach; (c) a sense of proactive cunning that most burglars simply don’t have.
If you’re worried about burglars and thieves…
…then for heaven’s sake make sure you have a secure front and back door, a protected letterbox, and lockable windows.
Rather than making copies of your keys, a burglar will probably just opportunistically break in without a key if they suspect that your home is vulnerable.