PoPville PSA – Don’t Use This Type of Lock Anymore

“Dear PoP,

Yesterday while I was grabbing a lunchtime workout at the Washington Sports Club in Dupont Circle, someone broke into my locker and took three credit cards. Over the next several hours, this person (or people) racked up nearly $4,000 worth of charges at Dupont Circle and Gallery Place shops. I found out this morning that the same thing happened to my coworker at the same time yesterday. Washington Sports Club and MPD are on the case, but I want readers to know that using old-school Master combo locks are no longer safe. According to this YouTube video (see below), they can be picked with a shim made out of a piece of a Coke can.

The scariest thing is that this technique for picking the lock doesn’t break it. The thief was nice enough to lock up and put my wallet back in my pants–giving him time to spend on the credit cards before I noticed them missing.”

32 Comment

  • FYI: At the Columbia Heights WSC, there is a place near the entrance where you can lock up your phone and wallet in a secure box for 25 cents.

    I feel like putting a lock on a locker at a gym is basically sending a message to criminals: “What’s in here is valuable enough to merit the use of this lock, so don’t bother checking the unlocked lockers – just come right for this one”

  • Also, to the OP: that sucks. I hate, hate, hate that DC is just full of thieves. I’ve had a wallet, laptop and bike stolen from me in the past 2.5 years. Goddamn thieves…..

    • FULL of thieves? You make it sound like Gotham… It is certainly NOT. In fact, its crime rate is fairly manageable now. I’ve been in or around this city for my whole life – even when it was more full of thieves and I’ve never had a problem.

    • Thieves go where they think they can steal. Unattended (if locked) places where they may have a bit of privacy and time, are good places to start. Gyms in Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda, Silver Spring, etc. are all likely to have this problem and likely bikes, wallets, and laptops are stolen there as well. All places with people are all “full of thieves.”

      Now is it likely that gyms close to Metros, especially those in DC may be a bit more of a problem? Possibly. That just means that it is physically easier for those with bad intentions (like those who go there to exercise) can get their easier. Getting to them easier just means those places may be higher on the target list.

  • What locks are acceptable?
    1st poster: so I guess we’re all just supposed to leave our front doors wide open and unlocked too?

    • Keyed locks or heavier duty combination locks that use individual tumblers for the 3 or 4 digit combination (like a luggage lock but bigger).

      This isn’t really new either. This method of breaking masterlock combination locks has been around for about 10 years now.

  • I agree, Shawn. I’ve lived in multiple cities, including NYC, and nowhere did things get stolen faster than here in DC. Even when something’s bolted down, I feel like it’s only a matter of time before someone figures out how to get it. It’s incredibly frustrating and disheartening.

    • My partner had her bike stolen from outside the Dupont Circle metro station. It had been locked up with one of these combination locks, which was not smart on her part, but I still found it surprising that someone was picking a lock in such a busy area and no one noticed or cared.

  • This is why my credits cards have the name Santos L. Halper on them; if they get stolen, it’s the dog who has to pay…

    On a serious note, I don’t carry a thick wallet, just a money clip with money, my license, health card, and my one and only credit card. I think that I would stuff it into my shoe if I had to put it in a locker at a gym.

  • I’ve never heard of this happening at VIDA, only WSC. How do these thieves enter the locker room over and over again? Do they actually have memberships for the sole purpose of breaking into lockers, do they sneak in, are they inside jobs? How does this keep happening? What’s the security like there? I know that at the VIDA in Logan circle, there are usually 2-3 people at the front and they scan your fingerprint. The reason I joined vida and not wsc was because of all the thefts I hear about on here.

    • They are probably members at the gym and thieve occasionally when they see an opportunity. This is why I always carry my valuables with me or leave them in the car.

    • WSC has teen/student memberships where kids as young as 14 can join so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the work of some teenagers rather than some sort of complex crime ring. In my experience the women’s WSC locker room always has (even really early and really late) a few people in it, including staff, so I would hope someone would notice a person trying to pick a lock in there. I wonder if the thief was pretty skilled at looking totally casual when he was committing the crime and I’m curious as to where the purchases were made and whether that could give some hint about the age of the culprit(s).

      • The purchases were made at Macy’s, Filene’s Basement, City Sports, Urban Outfitters, Ann Taylor Loft, Clyde’s, and Regal Cinemas. Most of the purchases were round numbers implying gift cards. It’s obvious the person hopped the red line to Metro Center and then headed to Gallery Place and walked down the strip. They were moving FAST. Some of the purchases were within four minutes of each other.
        I don’t think it’s kids. They were sophisticated enough to leave cash, my iPhone, and the credit cards in the front of my wallet. If any one of those things were missing, I would have shut down my cards and been able to minimize the damage.

  • I used that kind of lock when I trained at Krav Maga DC. Never had any problems. But that’s a gym where outside of the locker room there are lots of people training who could easily kick your ass.

  • Awesome youtube vid. I have a hobby for this weekend.

  • I have an old Master Lock that I forgot the combo to and had to write to Master Lock and have my note notarized with a picture of the serial number imprinted on the back.
    They wrote back to me in several weeks with the combo.
    Now when you think of it anyone can take a picture of your lock and have a piece of paper notarized and get the combination of your lock, if it is the old style with the serial number. Although not spontaneous, like a break in, but still a very real possibility for someone on a mission to rob you.

  • Was this at the WSC on Connecticut, or the other one in Dupont?

    I always take my credit cards and cash with me when I’m working out – I don’t leave anything in the locker except my clothes and possibly my (incredibly old, crappy) Razr phone.

  • Sorry to hear about this.
    I’m curious as to why your credit card companies allowed $4000 worth of charges to be made in a matter of hours. Every company has software that looks for suspicious charging patterns.
    From the club’s perspective, I am not sure what they can do. Obviously, they need to make sure that only members get in. But I’ve been to several WSCs and I have not noticed any pattern where people are allowed to just walk in without proving they are a member. An inside job? Maybe. Do they prohibit employees from going in the locker areas?
    No one wants cameras in the locker area. I don’t think many people would be comfortable with having some employees stationed there watching people while they undress.
    Given that most retailers have cameras on the checkout areas, there is a good chance that the police can identify the person(s) responsible. I hope they do.

    • I was thinking the same thing. My credit card company calls me all the time, even when its me acting suspicious. Outside of Christmas shopping season, lots of purchases really close together should be a huge red flag!

      • My personal credit card only got dinged for $700 before it began declining transactions. My corporate AMEX got hit for $1,700 before I shut it down. My Health Savings Account debit card was taken for 1,400 before it stopped working. As I said before, this guy knows how to milk the cards for all they’re worth. The detective assigned to my case has already obtained some security footage and got a decent description from a bartender at Clyde’s who sold the dude $200 in gift cards. I think they may actually catch this guy.

        • Wow. I am on vacation in a place where no one locks up anything, not their bikes or their front doors. And every time my phone rings, I am sure it’s my neighbors back in DC telling me my apartment’s been robbed (again).

          To bring it full circle, my bank just shut off my ATM card for suspicious activity (just me, buying crap on vacation in a place with zero crime)

          Thievery is just depressing, and it’s weird to be in a place where you can let your guard down (except not about what may or may not be happening back in DC)

  • You don’t need a shim to pick this kind of lock. You can actually hear/feel the clicks on the proper numbers and it is easy to guess the combination. My friend showed me how it worked, and you can look upo the instructions on the internet. So, yeah, those kind do not work.

  • A similar thing happened a few months ago at the Results on U St. Guy comes in and either opens locks or pulls open lockers to steal stuff. Results has pics of members when they get in unless the person has a National Fitness Membership (one of those general fitness plans that allows you to go to different gyms like Results, Vida or WSC through your insurance or other ways). National Fitness members just swipe their cards at the gyms – there’s no picture and you are usually not asked to show ID. Though VIDA has the fingerprints, a person carrying a National Fitness card can get it by swiping the card.

  • Regardless of what lock you use at WSC, you should never store anything in there that you can’t afford to lose. At most WSC locations the lockers are made of manufactured wood and it only takes a screw driver and little leverage to strip the hinge hardware from the inside wall of the locker . . . that’s how my WSC locker was accessed a few years ago. In my case, they took the cash and left the cards behind.

  • I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an inside job, there are some questionable characters that work at that WSC.

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