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Nowadays, it’s becoming more and more apparent that cylinder locks are no longer as safe as they once were. Using a combination of cunning ingenuity and creativity, criminals can “bump” any lock using a specially cut key that can fit into most cylinder locks. When used in combination with a screwdriver or mallet, thieves can use this tool to force the lock open. It’s an old trick reimagined really, and unfortunately, it’s super easy for thieves to implement. It has an astoundingly high success rate among criminals, as evidenced by the number of reported incidents and it makes it difficult to catch the criminals afterward because this method doesn’t leave behind any signs of forced entry. Obviously, this should motivate any homeowner to think seriously about taking measures to avoid lock bumping. 

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What Are Bump Keys?

Bump keys are specially designed with a specific cutting technique that can sidestep the security mechanism in the average tumbler and pin lock. It’s interesting to note here that bump keys are often called “999 keys” because when they’re placed into the key-making machine the ridges are cut to their full depth. They’re easy to access and replicate time and again because most locksmiths can cut a bump key in less than five minutes.

How Do Bump Keys Work?

Bump keys are designed to exploit a loophole that’s built into most pin and tumbler locks. You see, the pin stacks in a pin and tumbler lock are spring loaded to keep the cylinder in place so that it can only be turned with the right key.

Most pin and tumbler locks come with a dual pin set, including key pins and driver pins. There’s one key pin and one driver pin within each pin stack, and there’s a tiny spring connected to the driver pin specifically, which stacks the pins up against one another.

Each pin stack has visible differences in the meeting point of each set of pins, and that’s what makes each key absolutely unique. Thus, when you place the right key into a lock, you are essentially aligning all of the attachment points of the pin stack to form a “shear line.” This allows the lock to move freely within the cylinder and this is what essentially opens the door.

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On the other hand, a bumper is intentionally designed to bump against the pins into misalignment, especially when a hammer or a screwdriver is used to facilitate the process. The longer you strike the bump key, the more likely it is to create a temporary shear line on the key which then allows the door to open. Stats show that bump keys have a high effectiveness rate of up to 90% in cases where it’s used on cylinder locks. The worst part about robberies that are committed using bump locks is that they can remain undetected for long periods of time. It’s not until you notice that you’re missing a few important items that you realize something’s out of place and that you’ve been robbed. 

Are Bump Key Sets Illegal?

Bump Key Set

Anyone can legally make and possess a bump key. The only time it becomes illegal on both counts is if you use the key to facilitate a robbery. Regular civilians, licensed locksmiths and sworn peace officers may possess a bump key at any time without arousing suspicion of ill intent. But, even if you into these categories you’ll be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you weren’t intending to use the bump key for any criminal activity. Of course, it’s almost impossible to prove this because why else would anyone own a bump key except to gain access to a building illegally? You could argue that you keep it as a backup just in case you lose one of your keys but you’d still be at the mercy of a jury.  

What About Bump Key Hammers?

A bump hammer is an essential part of the puzzle when it comes to key bumping as it’s what criminals use to strike the bump key into place. In the absence of a bump key hammer, some criminals have used other tools like a regular hammer, mobile phones, and even their own fingers to try and get the key through. But, apparently, nothing works quite as well as a specially made bump key hammer.

It’s interesting therefore to learn that before the bump hammer, there was the bump key, which explains why bump keys were made out of spray-painted and chopped steel meter ruler in the first place. These were the crude beginnings of what we know today as bump keys, and they’ve evolved over the years to become a complete kit that even includes a purposefully built bump key hammer.

Bump Key Hammers
Two different Bump Key Hammers

Nowadays criminals are spoilt for choice when it comes to bump hammers. There are options with advanced flexibility and others with standard flexibility. This set of tools is the go-to combination for criminals that have a high success rate with their robberies. They find it effective because it allows for discreet breaking and entering that never gets them caught. You have to understand that the type of action displayed by a bumper hammer is what enables them to be so effective. Not only that, but bumper hammers are made tough to last for decades, which make them an invaluable tool in the trade of bumping locks.

How to Protect Against Lock Bumping

Professional locksmiths were the first to invest and use bump keys for the purpose of helping people who lose their keys to gain entry into their homes. But, since the Internet came along people are now using bump keys for sinister purposes. There’s a huge amount of online content that’s dedicated to showing people how to pick and bump locks through YouTube videos, online blogs and forums. It’s scary to think that this type of information is out there waiting to be discovered by just about anyone. As a homeowner, the best way to protect yourself from the wave of key bumpers that are being created is to install a keyless lock system that’s immune to lock bumping.

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