How to Tell If Your Locks Have Been Tampered With

Burglars may try a number of methods to try and gain access to your home, including picking your lock. The most obvious signs your lock has been tampered with are visible dents and scuff marks around the key hole. While these are quick and easy to notice, here are specific signs of lock tampering that you can look for and measures you can take to help prevent unauthorized entry.

Have your locks been tampered with? Here's how to tell

Types of unauthorized entry

When you suspect lock tampering—or worse, a break in—the first thing to do is remain calm and assess the situation. What evidence do you have? For example, is anything inexplicably missing, moved, or broken? Any window, lock, or door frame deformed, smashed, or broken? If you have evidence like this, call the police to report it. If not, you might look a little closer for indications of tampering.

Before you go looking for signs of entry, however, it might help to have a basic understanding of the three main ways burglars go about getting through locks.

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1. Brute force

This is the hastiest, and therefore messiest, form of attempted break in. Often a criminal will try to bash in a lock, drill through a deadbolt, or kick down a door, leaving a trail of twisted metal and splintered wood. There are less obvious ways to force through a lock though, so you might also look for some of the following signs of unnatural wear.

Signs of brute force

  • Paint circles from lock fixture movement (like it was loosened and retightened out of place)
  • Bent deadbolts or latches
  • Warped doors/doorframes

If you notice that your key is suddenly harder to turn than usual, this could indicate pin deformation—a result of more refined methods of lock manipulation like bumping or picking.

2. Bumping

Since the early 1900s, locksmiths have used a secretive technique called “bumping” to open locks in a hurry. In 2005, a Dutch talk show revealed the process and, since then, the technique has been picked up by countless burglars worldwide.

To do this, burglars file down the teeth of a key into several points, sort of like a little saw. Next, they insert this “bump key” all the way into a compatible keyhole and withdraw it one click. Then they strike it abruptly with a blunt object, withdraw one click again, and repeat until the lock tumblers have all caught. Finally, they turn the key and open the door.

When done correctly, this method leaves little trace. Sometimes, however, hasty amateurs can leave identifiable marks.

Signs of bumping

  • Fresh nicks around the edges of the keyhole from pounding the key a little too forcefully
  • Shiny metal edges that look like they’ve been recently hit

3. Picking

The third and most traditional method of tampering with locks is “picking.” This is where a person uses small tools like a flat screwdriver to turn the lock and a pick (sometimes even a dental pick) to rake the pin tumblers. Like bumping, once the tumblers catch the lock easily turns.

This takes more time and expertise than bumping, but is gentler and therefore unlikely to leave indications like warped pins or bolts. Nevertheless, as picks and shims (i.e., screwdrivers) wiggle around inside, they can cut into the edges, leaving marks.

Signs of picking

  • Tiny scratch marks, showing fresh, shiny metal around the key hole (finer than from a key)

Prevention Strategies

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Now that you know what signs to look for and how they happened, you can consider options for rectifying the problem. One of the best ways to deal with lock tampering is to change your locks to deadbolts, or upgrade them to hybrid digital/mechanical bolts, which are not as dependent upon tumblers and pins.

You can also use a device which prevents turning of a deadbolt even after it is unlocked. And in brute force situations, having a sturdy door, like one of our top picks, is ideal.

It might be time to consider installing a home security system. That way even after you’ve changed locks and reinforced doors, if a criminal tries to force their way back in they’ll set off alarms or get caught on tape, offering you and your family yet another layer of protection.

If you’re interested in this kind of monitoring, let SafeWise help you start comparing home security packages so you can find a company that meets your needs.

For more safety tips specific to your area you can contact your local police department or crime prevention council.


Get to a safe place and call 911. Check out these tips for more information.

A deadbolt is considered the safest type of lock. These are our top picks for the best door locks

There is a burglary every 30 seconds in the United States.

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Celeste Tholen
Written by
Celeste Tholen
Celeste has dedicated her decade-long career to reporting and reviews that help people make well-informed decisions. She oversees editorial strategy and production for SafeWise, with a goal to help people find the information they need to make their homes and lives safer. Prior to SafeWise, she worked as an editor and reporter for KSL and Deseret News. She continues to report on local news as a volunteer with the community paper. For the last six years, she’s led a Girl Scout troop, teaching girls about safety and preparing for whatever life throws their way.

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  • I live in an apartment building. I just came home to a front door lock that’s not flush with the metal it’s set in (slightly pulled out so you can see the brass behind it) and concentric scratches around the door lock.

  • I’m at my wits end I’ve done most of the things that are suggested my problem is I was harassed and rate on my job when harassment started they broke in my locker and went through all my things in my purse and had all my belongings on the floor did not know what the time they make keys copies of my keys to my house till a few weeks later when I came home my steel doors were open unlocked but my entry door wasn’t I had the alarm on and they saw the camera in my window so they didn’t come in I Saw nothing bothered when I got inside the house weeks later I came home and they have found a way to block the signal on my alarm and into my house and I have Vivnt security system I called to let them know and they wanted to give me more cameras and other equipment. for what when they can get in why am I paying you for more stuff anyhow I switched alarm companies to ADT and I changed my luxe I just recently came home to find that they had block the signal on ADT alarm system also came into my house and didn’t take anything like they didn’t at my job but they went through my refrigerator and my food and I unplug whatever they thought might be a nanny cam in my home so now I don’t know what to do as far as securing my home is there anyone that can give me a suggestion

    1. Get yourself a police lock on the back of your front door. Also get yourself a Pit bull and let no one pet it. Get 2 if you have to, someone was messing with my door until I got a pitbull. Now no one can even come to the door let alone get out of the elevator with out her barking. Sometime they are better than a gun.

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