By Erin Delmore
Imagine your house could be broken into and you’d never know it. It’s possible with a bump key, named because a bump is all it takes to pop the lock.
“People say, ‘My house got broken into. Something’s missing. I don’t know how it happened. How’d they get in? There’s no forced sign of entry.’ So then they start looking at other sources. Was it someone who maybe had a key to their house, they start thinking, was it a housekeeper, when in fact it could’ve been someone using a bump key that could’ve just been a random burglar,” said Assemblyman Dave Rible.
It’s a key blank with deep cuts. Hit with blunt force, it can “bump” a lock open. And here’s the thing: it can also lock that door back up.
“They can break in, commit the burglary, then leave and then bump key the lock closed again. So someone could actually come home and not even know they were burglarized or how people broke in,” Rible said.
Save for this small mark — an indentation into the keyway. Rible is a certified forensic locksmith. He’s trained to examine locks and find out how they were bypassed. He’s sponsoring a bill that targets people who make, sell or buy bump keys.
“We’ve had laws for Slim Jims and other things that have been used to break into cars. Now it’s just time to add bump keys to the list of burglary tools,” Rible said.
Now, you can buy them without penalty. One set of 23 goes for under 50 bucks online. Rible says that would almost always do the trick. That’s because the key doesn’t have to match the lock exactly, the sizes just have to match.
“If they have a couple minutes they can sit there and try the different keys to find out which one goes in and then they go through the bumping process,” Rible said.
“You could have one of these bump keys and not be charged with a crime. The bad news is, the bump key may still be around, but this time, the bump key owner goes to jail,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.
Under the proposed legislation, it would be a fourth degree crime to possess a bump key, a disorderly persons offense heaped on anyone who manufactures or sells them.
“Fourth degree crime, you’re automatically fingerprinted. Now that person’s put into the system and that gives law enforcement the opportunity, they may not have committed a crime at that point, but once they’re fingerprinted, their fingerprints are stored into a database that three, four months down the road the fingerprints are lifted at a burglary scene, now, at least we have that person in the system,” Rible said.
“We’ve had a number of customers say they’ve had their locks either picked or bumped,” said locksmith David C. Rible.
The assemblyman’s cousin — and namesake — owns a locksmith shop in Point Pleasant. He said he’s seen evidence of locks bumped in the area. Associated robberies? Hard to prove.
Over time, any key will will mark a lock, making it hard to prove a bump key was used, unless the locks are new. Assemblyman Rible says his legislation would educate law enforcement and help police hone in on the right suspects. In the meantime, he suggested New Jerseyans look into buying high-security, bump-proof locks.