Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Electronic Key Control: Three Things You Need to Do Before the Holidays

Alarm clock with Santa hatThe holidays are coming up, and chances are, you and many of your associates are looking forward to long vacations and time with friends and family.

Before you leave, though, it’s important to make sure that your key control policies don’t go on vacation when you do. Here are our top three tips for making sure your electronic key control system does its job while you’re off the clock.

Review Access Levels

Before you leave, review user access levels to make sure any employees who are working through the holidays are authorized to check out the keys they need. Restrict access to keys they will not use in the course of their job responsibilities. If you anticipate users needing access to high-security assets or areas, such as vehicles or rooms containing expensive equipment, make sure an on-site manager or associate with the appropriate access levels is available to assist with these transactions. Do not relax security requirements for the sake of convenience.

Make Sure Alerts Are Set Up

You should always take advantage of email and text alerts for overdue keys and unauthorized transactions, but alerts are especially important if management personnel and/or system administrators are going to be out of the office for the holidays. In the event that a security breach occurs while key personnel are away, they need to know so they can take immediate action. (If you have a KeyTrak system, check out our three-step guide to setting up text alerts.)

Collect Unreturned Keys

Review the key log to determine which users still have keys checked out. If any of those employees will be taking vacation, ensure that they return the keys in their possession before they leave.

Take these precautions now and rest assured that you have taken the proper steps to keep your keys and assets safe while you’re enjoying your vacation.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

New Auto Theft Scam Makes Dealers Do a Double Take

Before you let a prospect test drive a car, you probably photocopy their driver's license just in case they decide to take a one-way trip with your inventory. But what about when they simply want to take a closer look at a vehicle on the lot?
salesman giving customer car keys

There's a new tactic thieves are using to steal cars that will make you do a double take and think twice before handing over keys. 

It's being referred to as the key-swap scam. Scammers pose as potential buyers who simply want to examine the interior of a particular vehicle. During their inspection, they pocket the real keys and return a look-alike pair to the salesperson. They then use the stolen keys to access the vehicle a short time later.

To protect your dealership from falling victim to this sting, make sure you secure keys to easily identifiable key tags, so you'll immediately know the difference between genuine and counterfeit keys.

Monday, November 4, 2013

No Sign of Forced Entry: Who Has Access to Your Tenants' Keys?

There are few things worse for your property's reputation than a string of break-ins. Except, of course, when, instead of using a crowbar, the assailant uses keys to enter your tenants' apartments.

In February of 2013, residents living in an upscale apartment complex in Boston reported at least five break-ins with no sign of forced entry. It was immediately obvious to police that the thief had access to a set of the apartment's keys.

One victim paints a terrifyingly realistic scenario: "What if I had been home when someone came in," she said. "It is a very unsettling situation, and I don't think the management company has done much to address it."

She told reporters that she planned to move out, despite the fact that the property manager had just completed the expensive and time-consuming process of re-keying all the locks.

This compelling news story teaches us three things: 

Tenants Don't Quickly Forgive and Forget

Once you compromise your tenants' safety, it's difficult to gain back their trust. Not only will they not easily forgive the lapse in security, they won't stay quiet about it. As the popular saying goes, bad news travels faster than good. Would you move into a property if you heard that it had a history of poor key management?

Property Managers Must Do Their Due Diligence 

You can be held liable for not providing adequate key control, because leaving tenants' keys unsecured or failing to track who has access to keys is grounds for a negligent security lawsuit. You wouldn't expect your tenants to move into an apartment that didn't have locks installed on the doors. In the same way, you must do your due diligence to tightly secure the keys that unlock your tenants' homes.

Installing a Key Management System Is Better Than the Alternative 

Between the damaged reputation and cost of re-keying every apartment, losing control of keys is an expensive slip-up. It's much more prudent for you to purchase a system that secures keys, keeps a verifiable record of key transactions in real time and controls users' access to keys.

To find out what other key management mistakes property owners make that leave them open to liability, check out our white paper.

Grand Master Key Stolen From School Campus

Gold keys on top of hundred dollar bills
Properly securing campus keys is vital, because it can prevent the theft of confidential documents and access to restricted areas.

The University of Central Arkansas knows this all too well, as last year it had several items stolen, ranging from an assistant director's medicine to countless exam answers. Upon further investigation, it was found that a grand master key belonging to UCA's chief of staff had been used to retrieve the keys required to gain entry into the offices where the items were taken.

The employee reported the stolen key in accordance with the university's key control policy, but when asked about the key, he abruptly resigned.

What's more, a series of permissions are needed to gain access to UCA's keys, and replacement costs increase in proportion with the level of authority required to gain access to each key. Lower-level keys cost $45 to replace, and to rekey a general building master key, the school must come up with $5,000. However, these amounts are drops in a bucket compared to the grand master key, which is one of the university's most expensive assets, with a $100,000 replacement cost.

To avoid replacement costs such as these and strengthen security, you must have a verifiable method in place to uphold employee accountability. Electronic key systems can help you do this by requiring staff members to enter a passcode, scan a fingerprint or swipe a proximity card to access keys, giving you a full-proof record of inventory activity.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Master Keys Stolen from Leduc Foundation

Keys on key ringCompared to other businesses, housing facilities bear a much greater responsibility to keep keys secure. When a residential key is stolen, that tenant is left vulnerable to attacks, robberies and other heinous crimes. When a master key is stolen, every tenant becomes a potential target.

Leduc Foundation's residents were put in immediate danger when the master keys to its 19 housing facilities were stolen.

Even though the keys were unlabeled, the executives at Leduc Foundation deemed it necessary to begin the expensive process of changing external building locks on all 19 of its senior housing facilities to protect its tenants.

To prevent similar expenses at your property, consider storing keys in an electronic key control system that requires users to enter a passcode, scan a fingerprint or swipe a proximity card to access keys.

Systems that only allow keys to be accessed by authorized users can prevent master keys from being stolen and increase the safety of your tenants.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Electronic Key Management Systems: Common Misconceptions — Part 4

So far in this series, we’ve addressed three common misconceptions people have about electronic key control systems:

In this last installment, we’ll address one of the most common misconceptions people have.

Misconception #4: The Cost Isn't Justifiable

Man with Empty Wallet
For many businesses, the initial investment of a key control system can be off-putting. But, as they say, you get what you pay for. When it comes to key and asset management, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind.

Before deciding against an electronic key control system for budgetary reasons alone, weigh the price of the key control system itself against the potential cost of lost or stolen keys and assets and even lawsuits.

Consider these real-life accounts of key control gone wrong:

  • An apartment complex was found liable in the death of a former tenant after the handyman used a master key to enter the tenant’s apartment and murder her.
    Total Cost: $10.8 million
  • An adjunct instructor at a community college was charged with using a master key to steal textbooks from faculty members’ offices.
    Total Cost: $20,000
  • A former Tiffany & Co. executive was arrested for stealing and reselling a stash of jewelry.
    Total Cost: $1 million

In each of the above cases, the price of an electronic key control system would have been a fraction of the cost of the security breaches affecting the assets, keys and people the keys were intended to protect. When you have adequate key control measures in place, you reduce your chances of people gaining unauthorized access to keys and assets. For those who do have access to keys, you are able to automatically create an audit trail that can aid in tracking down stolen keys.

It’s true that there are less expensive alternatives to electronic key control systems. What you save in the initial investment, however, leaves you vulnerable to security breaches that could cost you far more than the price of a key control system in terms of lost or stolen assets, rekeying costs or lawsuits. As Lawrence J. Fennelly states in his "Handbook of Loss Prevention and Crime Prevention," "Key control is an extremely important inclusion in a crime prevention or security survey."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Visitors' Cars Raided After Man Steals Keys From YMCA

One of the most convenient places thieves can gain access to victims' keys is behind the front desk at a fitness center. Visitors readily turn over their personal items to the front desk while they work out, expecting them to be secure. However, key racks are often highly visible and accessible to criminals.

This was the case at the Sarasota, FL YMCA. Peter Strohminger made a habit of stealing items from YMCA visitors' cars by simply lifting their car keys off the front desk key rack and returning them after he was through. In the first incident he stole a wallet, and in the second he was caught by the would-be victim and a YMCA supervisor.

The YMCA has since moved its key rack to an area only staff members can access, but without proper key security there still exists an opportunity for theft. Electronic key control systems can prevent this sort of theft, allowing businesses to store keys and assets in tamper-proof drawers where only authorized employees can gain access to visitors' items by entering a password or scanning their fingerprint.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Electronic Key Management Systems: Common Misconceptions — Part 3

Backup disk in drive
In part 2 of this series, we established that using an electronic key control system doesn't have to be complicated.

But for some, just the possibility of data loss seems to outweigh the benefits key systems provide. A common fear people hold is that the loss of this valuable data is inevitable. Read on to see how you can ease this fear.

Misconception #3: Data Loss Is Completely Beyond Your Control

According to a study conducted by the University of Texas, 93 percent of businesses that suffer a catastrophic data loss do not survive. To prevent this outcome, there are several preventative measures your business can take to protect your data starting with a comprehensive disaster recovery (DR) strategy.

Disaster Recovery Strategy

When incorporating an electronic key management system into your infrastructure, make provisions in your DR plan for backing up and storing transaction data. Document these procedures so employees know the correct process to follow.

Daily Backups

As soon as you begin using your electronic key control system, set your system to automatically store backup data on a CD-RW or USB flash drive at the end of each day and print and file reports showing current inventory and checked out keys. You should also use an uninterruptible power supply so that in the event of a power outage you can run a manual backup.

Data Storage

The timeless advice "never put all your eggs in one basket" should be applied to your data storage strategy. Store copies of your data off-site so even if your facility is destroyed by either a natural or man-made disaster, you can access your information.

Electronic key control systems are efficient, easy to use and have manageable data recovery solutions, but is the up-front cost really worth it? Check out part 4 of our series to find out.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Four Ways Apartment Complexes Can Reduce Liabilities

gavel on moneyProperty owners and managers face a multitude of challenges when it comes to keeping their tenants safe. But perhaps the greater challenge is protecting themselves from liability concerns, especially when dealing with out-of-the-ordinary lawsuits.

For example, a woman in Los Angeles, CA filed a lawsuit against her landlord, claiming that repair notices were causing her $500,000 worth of emotional distress. In New Jersey, a couple filed a suit against their landlord, alleging that paranormal activity forced them to move out of their apartment.

Frivolous lawsuits have become so common that stories like these fail to shock us anymore. If you're in the property management business, there are a few things that you can do to reduce your liability and protect yourself from sue-happy tenants.

Never Conceal Knowledge of Crimes or Increased Risk 

If you know that dangerous conditions exist on your property and do not inform tenants, the court can hold you accountable for any resulting injuries. Dangerous conditions can include anything from a robbery to a broken stair. Let tenants know about criminal activity that has taken place in the surrounding area and inform them of steps you have taken as well as steps they can take to ensure their safety. 

Secure Your Keys

You are putting yourself and your tenants at risk if you are not keeping your keys 100 percent secure. When you lack proper key control, a key can easily slip into the hands of the wrong person, resulting in theft, assaults or even more horrific crimes. Having a system in place that tracks who has keys checked out can reduce the likelihood of these crimes, keeping your tenants safe from harm and you safe from liability.

Run Background Checks on Tenants

Before allowing a tenant to rent at your property, run a background check. Make sure that all questions are asked uniformly and in a non-discriminatory manner. This means never asking for a person’s race, religion, sex or age (other than to make sure they are of age); otherwise you could have a discrimination case on your hands.

Also check sex offender registries, since renting to a registered sex offender could cause you to be held liable for injuries the offender causes to other tenants. Settling a case in which a tenant is raped or assaulted could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the average jury award is around $1 million.

Take Steps to Reduce the Likelihood of Crimes on Your Property

Courts are increasingly permitting tenants to sue when landlords fail to take basic measures to protect their safety, so it’s in your best interest to comply with security laws in your area. Depending on where your apartment complex is located, this could mean installing deadbolt locks, proper lighting and/or security cameras.

Following these four tips will not only provide a secure environment for residents, but it will also provide you with reassurance that you have taken the necessary precautions to protect your property. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Electronic Key Management Systems: Common Misconceptions — Part 2

Man looking at difficult equation on chalkboardWhen it comes to key control, security is, of course, a top priority. Unfortunately, people often rule out electronic key management systems because they believe they are too complicated. They compromise safety for simplicity and use alternative methods of key control such as pegboards and lockboxes.

We debunked the theory that transactions on electronic key systems take too long in part 1 of this series, and now it's time to dig deeper into the difficulty of key systems.

Are they really as complicated as they seem?

Misconception #2: They're Too Complicated

Pegboards and lockboxes are appealing due to their seeming convenience and simplicity. Simply mount the pegboard on the wall, hang the keys on it, create a log sheet, and you’re done. Electronic key management systems, on the other hand, require installation, software setup and employee training.

Overall Ease of Use

There's more to a pegboard system than simply hanging a key on a peg. The keys must be tracked somehow, which means that someone has to be responsible for updating a log and hunting down any missing keys. Not only does this process require a lot of manual upkeep, but it's also vulnerable to human error. What if someone forgets to update the log? Or what if someone signs the log saying they've returned a key but actually forgets to put the key back?

What seemed like simple key management protocol in theory has just become a logistical nightmare.

Automated systems, on the other hand, track the status of keys without having to manually enter transaction data into a log. Employees can log on by scanning their fingerprint, entering a password or scanning a proximity card, and then remove the key they need (assuming they have the appropriate authorization). Because the transaction data is recorded by software, the accuracy of the data is not left at the mercy of one person’s attention to detail or ability to keep up with the log.

If someone does forget to return a key, the overdue key will be logged. Some electronic key management systems will notify the system administrator via text or email that the key has not been returned. With non-computerized systems, missing keys can go unnoticed for days, weeks or even months, but automated key control systems allow you to identify the person responsible for a missing key right away.


Still, some might object that training employees and learning how to use an electronic key control system is too time-consuming when compared to other methods of key control. After all, there’s virtually no learning curve involved in using pegboards and lockboxes. It’s not difficult to locate and remove a key from a pegboard or lockbox, so employees can easily retrieve the keys they need access to.

We'll be honest: As with any software, electronic key management systems do require training. However, once you've determined your key control goals and know what you want the system to accomplish, the right vendor will train you and your employees how to use the software and work with you to make sure the system is meeting your goals. Plus, once you've invested time in the initial training, the system reduces the risk of stolen or lost keys and saves you time and effort.

So far we've made our argument in favor of how electronic key systems are efficient at gathering transaction data as well as easy to use. But how susceptible are automated key management systems to data loss? In the event of a power failure, for example, would the system retain transaction data? We’ve got an answer for that too. Check out part 3 of this series

Monday, July 15, 2013

What to Look for in a Key Management Vendor

Purchasing a key management system is a major investment, whether your business is an automotive dealership, multifamily property, commercial firm or a government office. As with any major purchasing decision you must evaluate the company you’ll be partnering with in addition to the product itself. Below are five key questions you should ask potential vendors before settling on a key control system.

Does the Vendor Have Local Representation?

KeyTrak Field Manager Aaron Burton
Aaron Burton
Field Manager
In this day and age you don't necessarily have to meet with a company representative in person to purchase a key management system. However, there are benefits to meeting one-on-one with a vendor.

 Meeting with a company employee allows you to not only get firsthand experience with the system but a sense of what the company stands for.

If a vendor has local representation, your interaction with the company doesn't have to end after you purchase a system. Aaron Burton, one of our KeyTrak field managers, explained how he assists local clients.

“Being able to go out and help our clients with additional training beyond my usual sales calls makes a huge difference in what KeyTrak has to offer. Recently, one of our automotive customers needed his newly hired employees trained on the KeyTrak system,” he said. “I was able to go out to that dealership the next day and perform the additional training."

What Type of Support Does the Vendor Offer and How Often Is It Available?

KeyTrak Support Representative Lindsay Stewart
Lindsay Stewart
Support Representative
Your business may only operate Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., but that doesn't mean that you won't need support after hours. 

“I receive calls from customers all the time who need help with little things,” said KeyTrak Support Representative Lindsay Stewart. “Being able to reach a live person who can answer their questions in the middle of the day on a weekend is a huge benefit.”


Will the Vendor Install the System?

KeyTrak Hardware Installation Coordinator Rob Shockey
Rob Shockey
Hardware Installation Coordinator
Before purchasing a key control system ask potential key control vendors if they offer installation services. This is especially important if you’re implementing the system in several locations and need consistent configurations, as do several KeyTrak clients.

“I recently installed 54 KeyTrak Guardian systems for a government customer, who had more than 50 points of contact across the U.S.,” said KeyTrak Hardware Installation Coordinator Rob Shockey. “They had unique requirements, and our product and our service team were capable of not only meeting their needs but exceeding their expectations.”


Will the Vendor Leave It up to You to Learn the System?

It's important to ask the vendor not only if system training will be provided but how the training with be administered.   

After installing a new system for the client mentioned above, Shockey said that “with the customer’s help and the help of our support groups here at KeyTrak, I was able to customize a huge portion of their training expectation and strategies to ensure they were able to use the key systems in such a way that reports, settings and usage became uniform amongst all 50-plus systems.”

Burton also takes advantage of his proximity to his clients by making sure that they use the system to its full potential. While performing training at a client site, Burton said, “I showed them some features they had not seen before, and they were able to use the system even more efficiently through our in-house software integrations.”

Does the Vendor Outsource Services?

KeyTrak Vice President of Sales Richard Battle
Richard Battle
Vice President of Sales
Not all vendors personally provide service after the sale. Sometimes installation, training and even system support are outsourced.

KeyTrak Vice President of Sales Richard Battle described what it means to be a single-source key control system provider: “Every person is a company employee, including the associates in our hardware and software design, sales, installation, training and service departments. Our customers only have one number to call for whatever they need.”

Working with only one company to meet all your system needs is generally easier because you don't have to work through third-party providers. It's reassuring to know that the same company that designed your system will be available to answer any questions or issues you have down the line.

For more tips on what to look for in an electronic key control vendor, check out our guide to selecting a key control system.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Tiffany & Co. Jewel Thief: Why Employee Accountability Is Essential

Female burglar holding diamond bracelet
former Tiffany & Co. executive was recently arrested for stealing and reselling a stash of jewelry for a total of over $1 million and is now facing up to 20 years in prison.

Because the former exec had authorization to check out jewelry, she had no difficulty obtaining the pieces. To avoid suspicion, she would only steal jewelry pieces that cost less than $10,000, knowing that Tiffany only took daily inventory of checked-out items worth more than $25,000. In four months, she stole over 160 pieces of jewelry and illegally sold them to an international dealer, receiving 75 checks for amounts up to $47,400.

Without a doubt, Tiffany takes measures to secure its jewelry against unauthorized removal, but the tale of the exec-turned-jewel-thief seems to indicate that employees are only held accountable up to a certain point (i.e., if they check out jewelry worth more than $25,000).

This story illustrates an important security lesson: When it comes to securing expensive items such as jewelry, it's vital to keep a verifiable record of each time an employee removes a key to check out these items, making it possible to hold employees accountable and maintain tighter security.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Electronic Key Management Systems: Common Misconceptions — Part 1

When it comes to security and crime prevention, key control is essential. Every key and every lock must be accounted for. Most businesses realize this fact, but often don’t place enough importance on the method of key control they use.

During our 25-plus years in the industry, we’ve seen that electronic key management systems pose fewer liability concerns than key control methods such as pegboards and lockboxes. But many businesses still have objections to using automated key control systems.

In this four-part blog series, we’ll talk about why some of the most common objections people have about electronic key management systems are actually misconceptions.

Misconception #1: Transactions Take Too Long

Because the pegboard/lockbox method is so straightforward in theory, the prospect of using an electronic key management system is daunting for some. Doesn’t it take a long time to log into the system, navigate to the screen you need and then physically remove the key?

The answer is no. The idea that it takes too long to check keys in and out of an electronic key control systems is a myth.

Let’s compare the pegboard/lockbox method to automated key control systems, using a KeyTrak system with a fingerprint reader as a reference.

To Check Keys Out

Pegboard/Lockbox: 30 seconds-5 minutes
Time accounts for locating key and manually updating log sheet.

KeyTrak: 15-60 seconds
Time accounts for logging in with fingerprint reader, searching for key and removing lighted key tag.

To Return Keys

Pegboard: 10-90 seconds
Time accounts for re-hanging key and updating log sheet.

KeyTrak: 5-10 seconds
Time accounts for logging in with fingerprint reader and returning key tag to any open slot in the drawer.

The Verdict

Despite the misconception that electronic key control systems make key control transactions more time-consuming, the systems hold their own when going up against pegboards and lockboxes. In most instances, carrying out transactions on the electronic key control system is actually faster than returning keys to a lockbox or pegboard and updating a log.

When checking out keys, the time it takes to retrieve a key from an electronic key control system is comparable to the time it takes to remove a key and update the log. When returning keys, the key system comes out ahead by a few seconds, even at the top end of the range.

In fact, these estimates for checking a key in or out from a pegboard or lockbox don’t even account for time spent looking for misplaced keys.

Let’s say someone checks a key out, forgets to update the log and then fails to return the key on time. If someone else needs to use the key and finds it missing from the pegboard or lockbox and there’s insufficient information in the log, they’ll have to do some detective work to find the person who last used the key. The advantage of electronic key control systems is that it automatically records user details for every transaction, so it’s easy to determine who last checked out a key.

Still, some might object that despite the faster transaction times and accountability of electronic key control systems, there’s something to be said for the simplicity of hanging a key on a hook and updating an honor-based log. Navigating an electronic key control system is too complicated and requires too much training, they say, but is that really the case?

Check out part 2 of our series, where we counter the “too complicated” objection as well!

How to Set Up Text Alerts on the KeyTrak System

We understand our customers are on the go and that they need instant updates about key activity when they're away from the office. To help you work more efficiently, you can receive email-to-text alerts from your KeyTrak system.

Businessman looking at phone on the go
You can be immediately notified of any issues, from unauthorized access to invalid login attempts to overdue keys. Most people can convert emails to texts through their cell phone provider by following these three steps:

1. Determine your cell phone carrier's domain name.

The first step is formatting your phone number like an email address, which requires knowing your phone carrier's domain name. You can find the most popular carriers' domain names in this article. Next, you'll combine your 10-digit mobile number with your cell phone provider’s domain name. For example, if your phone number is 123-456-7890 and your provider is AT&T, the correct format is 1234567890@txt.att.net.

2. Add your phone number and domain name to the KeyTrak system.

In the System Configuration section, select the Alarm Options tab. Enter your phone number and domain name (e.g., 1234567890@txt.att.net) into the "Email Recipients" field and click "Add".

3. Customize alerts.

Person holding cell phone

There are many alarm options to choose from, including unauthorized access, overdue keys, missed reservations and invalid login attempts. (Please note that alarm notifications are not available for standard, custom or security reports due to the large amount of data they contain.)

The text will be from "KeyTrak Alarm" and the subject will be the alarm type.*

Enjoy the convenient and efficient use of text message alerts to stay up to date with your system while you're on the go!

*Because KeyTrak doesn't directly offer the texting service, we're unable to provide support for issues related to phone service. Instead, please contact your mobile carrier if you have any text messaging problems.