The Downside to Convenience

The Downside to Convenience
Lock-picking tools leave self-storage open to crime

By Chris Shope

Every occupation--be it physician, carpenter, engineer or, yes, even self-storage operator--involves its own passion. My passion revolves around my specialty, security, which is important to all business owners. Companies in any industry rely on security to protect their hard-earned profits, property and livelihoods. So when I see products designed to manipulate what I work so hard to protect being sold on the open market to anyone with a credit card, it is like a slap in the face. I'm talking about lock-picking tools sold to storage operators as a convenient way to get into a lock that has been abandoned or is missing keys.

The companies that sell you these tools aren't security companies or locksmith suppliers. They are simply retailers. They are not even registered with the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA). Simply put, they provide you a convenient way to solve a problem. Unfortunately, they have created a bigger problem than the one they intended to solve.

These tools have leaked into the public as well as different coin-operated industries and created quite a stir. Criminals are using these devices to get into machines that rely on locks to protect their bank. They have also been used in the industry that gave them life: self-storage. We have seen a dramatic increase in these types of thefts over the last two years. How are criminals getting their hands on these tools? The companies who sell these products in the storage industry have no standards for selling them. Their only requirement is that a purchaser claim to be a storage operator and have a credit card or check.

We put these lock-picking-tool companies to a test and they all failed miserably. The last one we tested was unquestionably the worst. I had one of my sales assistants call this company and request its lock-picking kit and instructional video. The salesperson for the company didn't even verify our position or intentions. My assistant gave a number for a credit card that wasn't even in her name and had the company ship the tool to a P.O. box that was under a different name still. We received the shipment with no problem.

The company not only broke the law by shipping the tool through the U.S. Postal Service, it also proved it has no concern whatsoever about to whom they supply these tools. We have taken action against the company with representation from ALOA and the National Automated Merchandisers Association, two leading security associations with which we are affiliated. We are taking legal steps to put an end to the open sale of these tools to unauthorized consumers. The violated laws are:

39 USC 30 ß3002a. Nonmailability of locksmithing devices

a) Any locksmithing device is nonmailable mail, shall not be carried or delivered by mail, and shall be disposed of as the Postal Service directs, unless such device is mailed to:
1) a lock manufacturer or distributor;
2) a bona fide locksmith;
3) a bona fide repossessor; or
4) a motor vehicle manufacturer or dealer.

b) For the purpose of this section, ''locksmithing device'' means:
1) a device or tool (other than a key) designed to manipulate the tumblers in a lock into the unlocked position through the keyway of such lock;
2) a device or tool (other than a key or a device or tool under paragraph 1) designed for the unauthorized opening or bypassing of a lock or similar security device; and
3) a device or tool designed for making an impression of a key or similar security device to duplicate such key or device.

18 USC 83 ß1716A. Nonmailable locksmithing devices and motor vehicle master keys

a) Whoever knowingly deposits for mailing or delivery, or knowingly causes to be delivered by mail according to the direction thereon, or at any place to which it is directed to be delivered by the person to whom it is addressed, any matter declared to be nonmailable by section 3002 of title 39, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
b) Whoever knowingly deposits for mailing or delivery, causes to be delivered by mail, or causes to be delivered by any interstate mailing or delivery other than by the United States Postal Service, any matter declared to be nonmailable by section 3002a of title 39, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

People often ask me how they are supposed to get into locks that were abandoned or have lost keys. The answer is simple: Call a bonded locksmith. Also consider adding a section to your lease as well as posting a sign in your facility that states the renter is responsible for removing his own lock. Think about it for a moment--renters are responsible for locking their units, so why shouldn't they be responsible for unlocking them?

Some managers feel obligated to open locks for customers with lost keys. I understand about customer relations and trying to be helpful, but sometimes you have to draw the line. You must explain to your customers why you encourage the use of locksmiths vs. taking matters into your own hands. They might not like having to pay someone to remove their lock, but they will keep a closer eye on their keys in the future. And you will be taking steps to ensure security in our industry.

One solution to the abandoned-unit/lost-key problem is to offer tenants a choice of cylinder lock systems that allow them to register their individual key codes. For example, we offer a master-keyed system with a restricted keyway as well as another system with an overlock function. The key codes for these systems are registered in our database so customers always have access to their key numbers. If their keys are lost or a unit needs to be opened for auction, we can cut and ship a new key to a facility within 24 hours. For operators who want the same registration benefit but don't want to retrofit their whole facility, we provide a disc lock with the same capability. All of these systems eliminate any need for lock cutting or picking.

The big difference between a security company and company that sells security products is simple: A true security company provides its customers with quality products that deter crime. It also does everything in its power to constantly monitor criminal activity so new products can be developed to retaliate. The companies that merely sell security items don't specialize in this area. They treat these products as retail items. That is why it doesn't seem to them a bad idea to include manipulation tools in the spread. These tools may seem harmless enough. The offending companies don't even ask for bonding verification when they sell them to you. But imagine the same criminals who are reaping havoc on coin-op machines and other facilities paying a visit to you. I wouldn't want to be the one to explain that to my tenants.

Christopher Shope is the national marketing and sales director for Lock America Inc. (d.b.a. L.A.I. Group), which manufactures a complete line of security locks and custom-designed security hardware for self-storage and other industries. The L.A.I. team is committed to taking knowledge gained from other security industries and applying it to the self-storage market. For more information, call 800.422.2866; visit

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