4 Common Signs Your Locks Have Been Tampered With and What to Do About It

Nick P. Cellucci
Written by Nick P. Cellucci
Updated August 17, 2021
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Learn the warning signs of lock tampering so you can take action and keep your home safe

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Have you ever arrived home, looked at your front door, and had the feeling something was wrong? When that feeling of fear or stress creeps up, don’t just shrug it off. Learn what to look for so you can take proper action if you think your locks have been tampered with while you were away.

How Can I Tell If Someone Tampered With My Locks?

Below are common warning signs of an attempted home break-in.

1. Your Lock Doesn’t Function Properly

Even if you don’t immediately notice signs of tampering, if your key doesn’t turn as easily as usual, that’s a red flag. Once you notice that your lock isn’t functioning the way it normally does, look around for any visible warning signs of damage. In the best-case scenario, the malfunctioning lock is due to some other reason and you’re just taking precautions.

2. Visible Bending or Warping of Your Lock, Door, or Frame

If you see obvious signs of damage or unnatural wear, it’s likely that an attempted burglar tried to use sheer brute force to enter your home. If someone tried to drill through your deadbolt, bash in your lock, or simply kick down your door, you may notice one or more of the following:

  • Twisted or bent metal deadbolts or latches

  • Warped wood on doors or door frames

  • Splintered wood on the ground around the doorway

  • Paint circles near the lock fixture, as if it was loosened, moved, or retightened out of place

3. Tiny Scratch Marks Around the Keyhole

If you’ve ever seen a heist movie, you’re probably familiar with lock picking. This traditional method of lock tampering is gentle and doesn’t leave much of a trace. Typically, a burglar uses a small pick or flat screwdriver to rake the pin tumblers in your lock until they all catch and the lock turns.

As these small tools wiggle around inside your lock, they may cut into edges and leave marks. If you notice that your key is harder to turn than usual, check around the keyhole for tiny scratch marks or fresh, shiny metal marks finer than those left by your key. These are hard to notice but could be signs that someone tried to pick your lock.

4. New Nicks or Shiny Metal Edges Around the Keyhole

Similar to picking, there’s a technique that burglars use called bumping that can leave subtle signs or even no signs at all. Developed by locksmiths in the early 1900s, bumping involves the use of a standard key with teeth that have been filed down into saw-like points. This “dummy key” is fully inserted into a compatible lock and hammered carefully to catch all pin tumblers.

Like picking, this method done correctly can leave no trace. Done too forcefully, however, bumping could leave fresh nicks and shiny metal edges around the keyhole that look like they’ve been recently hit.

What to Do if You Think Someone has Tampered With Your Locks

Once you know what to look for, you can more confidently assess whether someone has attempted to break into your home. If you do suspect attempted burglary, there are several steps you can take to maximize your safety.

Take Notes and Gather Evidence

If you only see subtle signs and are unsure that a crime occurred, remain calm and continue to gather evidence. Take note of anything that is missing, moved, broken or deformed in or around your home.

Call 911

If there are enough obvious signs of damage or theft, be wary about entering your home in case entrance was gained and the intruder is still present. Immediately contact the police and file a report.

Contact a Professional Locksmith

An experienced residential locksmith in your area can visit your home to check out your lock. They will confirm whether it looks like it was tampered with or make repairs if needed. They can also offer advice on how to upgrade your locks for better security.

How to Prevent Lock Tampering and Break-Ins

Now that you know the telltale signs of lock tampering and how to respond when you see them, take some simple steps to prevent future burglary attempts and give you peace of mind. Even if you haven’t experienced the signs of lock tampering, being proactive will give you peace of mind.

Reinforce Your Doors and Windows

Look for vulnerabilities in your home’s entrances. Sliding glass doors or those made with flimsy wood are easy targets for would-be intruders. Ensure that your exterior doors are made from heavy wood or metal, and reinforce windows with looks, dowels or track fillers. Always securely shut, lock and deadbolt exterior windows and doors when you leave your home

Upgrade Your Locks

Especially if you’re only using the locks that came standard with your doors, consider replacing them with high-security locks that are pick-proof or bump-proof. There are digital lock options that rely less on traditional tumblers and pins.

Deadbolts are considered the safest type of lock, in part because they help reinforce the door against brute force entry and lock picking simultaneously. Deadbolts with long bolts of hardened steel that extend at least one inch inside your doorframes are harder to pry or saw open. To maximize the performance of any new lock, have it installed by a professional locksmith.

Maintain Existing Door Locks

Front door of house
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Like any part of your home, locks age with time and wear. A dirty lock can become fragile and more likely to break. With just a few minutes of effort at least twice a year, you can clean and maintain your locks to prolong their useful lifespan. Simply use a lubricant specifically designed to flush dirt out of your locks.

Install a Home Security System

You can deter intruders before they even make it to your newly upgraded locks by installing alarms and security cameras. Install cameras or video doorbells with live feeds that you can monitor from your smartphone, as well as alarms that go off during an attempted breach of your doors or windows.

You’ll find home security packages at a variety of price points depending on your needs and budget, but most tend to lead burglars to skip the homes they guard in favor of easier targets. Contact a local home security service for more information.

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