Many believe that keys can make their houses and properties secure. Furthermore, those who have non-clone keys suppose they are forever secured. But new key cutting machines falsify this, as no key cannot be copied at Chid Terra and Piassa. And this is coming to be a headache for many, and in reverse, a booming business for some, reports TEFERA TEKLU, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
Lauren Elliot is a British citizen working as a volunteer in Ethiopia. She rented a condominium house from someone who re-rented it. When he handed over the house to her, he gave her five keys that he said were not able to be cloned. She trusted him.
But one evening when she got back from dinner, she found that her house had been ransacked. Some valuables were also missing. The man disappeared into thin air, and so did her belongings.
The only thing she thought happened was that the man had a copy of the keys. As the only suspect, he is still at large.
“I didn’t know the keys can be cloned,” said Lauren.
Securing houses, offices, businesses and premises with locks is as old as modern construction and burglary, as witnessed by Lauren’s experience. And the existence of keys that cannot be cloned cannot make people feel safe to a certain degree anymore.
This comes after the intrusion of new key cutting machines like Fugon and Wixing have rendered these keys duplicable.
The business was alleged to have started within the neighbourhood of Chid Terra or Piassa by some entrepreneurs from Armenia or Italy. An Armenian called Vilisario passed the skill to many key cutters around Piassa, it is claimed by many. But he left the country when the Dergue Regime assumed power, say key cutters in Piassa.
Chid Terra, a place located in Merkato, is also known for the services it provides in duplicating keys. If one lost a key, the best place to visit is Chid Terra. Locksmiths in the area copy lost keys or fix a malfunctioned doorknob. Adane Gebremariam is an experienced locksmith in Piassa who is in his late 60s. He has been in the business since 1972. He said that he picked up the skill from those who were engaged in the business before him. And one of his daughters has become a skilled key cutter taking after her father.
“We don’t exactly know who started it. But we learned the skill through working under those who learned it before us,” Adane said.
In the beginning, they used rasps to make copies of keys. Now, they use the machines to shape the gears of the keys. They then put the two keys side by side and inspect them to check if they become similar or not. If they think their work is done, they brush them against a rasp to blunt some sharp edges.
“And just like magic, you have an extra lock opener. If they do not work the first time, they can be brought back for final touches and most of the time they work,” Adane said.
He used to charge between 25 cents to three Birr depending on the quality of the keys used to make a copy. Nowadays, the price is between 10 to 15 Br for ordinary keys, 40 Br for JMA, an American brand key, and 100 Br for the Unique brand, a South African brand key. But to make a copy of a car engine starting key, the price could go up to 500 Br.
Two to three customers a day come to Adane looking for his services.
“It is not enough, but it is compensated when sometimes an office wants the entire keys to get changed,” he said.
Besides, most of them have side businesses selling different types of keys, plumbing gadgets, screws, and repairing services.
On the afternoon of a sunny summer day, Chid Terra looks like a netherworld of rust metals or a scene from the Book of Eli, a movie that features Denzel Washington. If it were not for the people hurriedly going here and there and all kinds of machines making unbearable noises, the place would have had an eerie feeling.
There are around 100 key cloners around Chid Terra. People who have been licensed to do this business, who are retail traders of ”other construction materials, hardware plumbing, health equipment and supplies,” are categorised under licence number 62359 by the Addis Ababa Trade Bureau.
“We used to do this business for some time in the past, but because the money involved is very minimal we stopped it,” says a construction materials business owner around Chid Terra, who wanted to remain anonymous.
The key cloning machines are imported mainly from Italy, China and Dubai. They cost between 15,000 to 70,000 Br depending on their quality.
The key cutters have never asked people for a copy of their identity cards, for safety reasons, when they make a copy of a key. Police have never brought anyone who had their services for criminal investigations, according to the locksmiths in Piassa and Chid Terra.
Chuchu, who wanted to be addressed by his first name only, is a mechanic around Sebara Babur. He says he is always very careful not to lose or to leave the engine starting key of his customers inside the cars.
When his friend left his Toyota Hilux outside of his condominium flat, it got stolen. When the police found it, many of its parts were missing. The parts are likely to end up in underground markets, and the culprits may never be found.
Thieves with a cache of different kinds of keys could open someone’s house and empty its contents. To fight such kinds of crimes, community policing has now become common in many neighbourhoods. They get training from the police on how to handle criminal activities. For the time being, this is one of the viable solutions to curb crimes that are related to copied keys.
Whether it brings up security questions or answers depending on the circumstances, the key cloning business is thriving. It gives so many people a significant relief that lost keys will be replaced through cloning. But it will also give nightmares to some by making them vulnerable
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