Mon, May 26, 2008 - Page 2 News List

Skeleton keys appearing for sale to public online

DON’T TRY AT HOMEPolice reminded the public that tools for picking and opening locks are only legal for locksmiths, and purchasing them is punishable by law

By Wang Rui-Te  /  STAFF REPORTER

A chain letter being spread by e-mail that claims to offer a “wonder key” capable of opening 99 percent of all locks in the world has sparked concerned after a string of Taipei City thefts.

Some locksmiths, who said they would never compromise their professional ethics by selling such keys to the public, said that such tools, when used maliciously, pose safety concerns.

A string of thefts in Taipei City’s Da-an (大安) and Wenshan (文山) districts and in Sindian (新店), Taipei County, have reportedly involved “wonder” keys, with locks and doors left intact by the intruders.

Police said that the perpetrators appeared to be trained users of the keys, which they believe were produced by professional locksmiths. They also said the thieves have mostly chosen doors with cross-shaped keyholes.

As picking a lock can take a long time, most thieves smash locks or break doors or windows to gain entry to a home or office, police said. Only thieves with training in locksmith techniques bother trying to open locks, they said.

After consulting several locksmiths, police said no one “wonder” skeleton key could open any variety of lock, but said that criminals with the right training and right set of tools could easily handle most locks.

Locksmiths are allowed to produce lock-picking tools for work-related purposes, the police said, but nonprofessionals should be warned that buying such keys online is a violation of Article 63 of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法).

Violators may face three days in detention or a fine of up to NT$30,000.

Though the keys are marketed as spares in case a person has misplaced or forgotten their keys, the police called the e-mail pitch dubious, as the advertisements presented the “wonder key” as “capable of opening an array of locks.”

The ad also offers details on copying regular keys “in case [a replica] is needed.”

The police said that there was no reason for a nonprofessional to own skeleton keys of any variety as they can have spare keys made.

The police also said the ads warned customers against illegal use of the “wonder key,” but the sellers had no way of checking the intentions of buyers.

The ad’s warning was designed to cover the sellers’ backs, police said, a typical trick on the Internet. Some Web sites also try to veil discussions about illegal activities with disclaimers calling the sites “academic discussions only.”

Such sites may include information about ways to commit suicide or hack computers, or explain home-made bombs and date-rape drugs.

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