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Spare keys can boost risk of theft -- and boost insurance rates

There's no denying that spare keys come in handy if you're locked out of your home or car. But those keys can quickly lead to a security breach.

"There's no such thing as a spare key," says Robert Siciliano, a personal security expert. "Every key is the key to your home or car."

In addition to putting your home, car and belongings in danger, those spare keys could cost you in the form of higher insurance premiums. Too many home insurance or auto insurance claims in three years could result in raised rates -- or even cause your carrier not to renew your policy, says J.R. Couch, a Farmers Insurance agent in Arizona.

best places to hide spare keys False sense of security

For many people, hiding a spare key under a planter or rock in their yard gives them a feeling of security.

"It's comforting to know that if the kids get locked out after school or I forget to grab the house keys, we can get back in," Dallas resident Mike Elliot says.

But experts say that perceived security isn't secure at all. Hidden keys actually reduce your security, says Timothy Dimoff, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services Inc. in Akron, Ohio. They not only increase your risk of theft, but put your personal safety in jeopardy.

Other options

As an alternative to hiding a key under a rock, many people ask neighbors to hold onto a key. Under ideal circumstances, this can be a great option, but proceed with caution, Siciliano says.

"Even if your neighbor is completely trustworthy, extended family, friends and other visitors to their home might not be," he says.

When choosing a neighbor as the keeper of your key, Dimoff recommends skipping those who have teenagers. "Even if the teen is a great, upstanding kid, you don't know his friends and their penchant for hijinks," he says.

You also should make sure your neighbor doesn't put an identifying label on your key, Siciliano says. That way, if your neighbor's house is burglarized, the thief won't have easy access to your house.

Furthermore, ensure that your neighbor doesn't keep your key on a key hook that's near the door or in plain sight. "Those keys are asking to be stolen by visitors to your neighbor's home," Dimoff says.

Instead, suggest that your neighbor find an unusual spot in his or her home for your keys.

"Ask them to tape your keys to the back of a framed family photo," Siciliano says. "Or buy a secret safe that looks like a cleanser can for your neighbor to keep your key in their laundry room."

The hidden truth

If you absolutely must hide a key in the yard, never hide it anywhere near the front or back doors. "Most keys are hidden within 5 feet of the door, and thieves know that," Dimoff says.

Other obvious hiding spots -- such as under rocks and welcome mats, in ceramic key holders disguised as garden art and in the back of mailboxes -- aren't smart choices either.

"Thieves know all the typical hiding places," Siciliano says. "It is not a good idea to hide keys in spots that people frequently use, because criminals check these places first."

If hiding a key is your only option, Siciliano recommends these locations for the utmost security:

• Behind a false shingle on the side of the house.

• Inside a doghouse under a false compartment.

• Inside a soda can that's tucked inside a bush. Just make sure you can't see it from the yard or the street.

• In a sealed, heat-resistant, fireproof container inside your barbecue pit.

Your best bet

The safest way to stash a key is tucking one in a protected lock box like one you might see a real estate agent use.

Of course, a keypad on a garage door is one way to bypass the need for a spare key. If you do install a keypad, Siciliano recommends changing the passcode once every three months.

The drive to keep car keys safe

Dimoff says the same rules for house keys apply to car keys.

"Thieves look for those magnetic key boxes to store car keys in and can find those boxes in less than 2 seconds," he says.

If you are prone to losing your keys and getting locked out of your car, Dimoff recommends that you "save yourself the heartache of a stolen car and opt for roadside service instead."

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