Randomly Appearing Mystery Keys
December 17, 2008 9:55 PM   Subscribe

Mystery Mailbox Key: I found a strange key in my mailbox, and another arrived at a friend's house nearby. What's going on?

So I'm trying to sell a house in a middling residential district, and I stop by to check on it every day or so, clean out the mailbox, shovel the walks, that sort of thing. The other day I found this key in the mailbox. It's the size and shape of a modern car key, with the bumps on both edges, but it's slightly thinner than a normal car key, and it looks like it's stamped out of one piece of metal; both sides are flat. It has "factory duplicate" stamped on the key, but nothing else. I have some friends that live about three blocks away, and they found an identical key in their mailbox. I compared the two; same cut, same everything, they don't have any idea about where it came from either.

What gives? Part of a failed promo? People marking houses for some reason? The mind boggles.
posted by craven_morhead to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They came loose from a car dealership promo piece. I get them often. A key is glued to a postcard with a message to bring it in to see if it will start a car. If so you win the car. Yeah. Obviously, that fake key will not start anything, but that's another rant.

Either it came loose from a card that was in your mail, or was in someone else's, but the key got wedged between your letters.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:12 PM on December 17, 2008

My first thought was the same as Fuzzy Skinner's, but the keys that come with car dealer promos don't usually have "factory duplicate" stamped on them. It sounds like the OPs key is more real than a promo key.

Maybe go ask some other neighbors (besides your friend) if they also got the same thing, or call the post office and see if they've handled recent mailings that featured keys.
posted by amyms at 10:59 PM on December 17, 2008

A mystery party? Do you share the same friends?
posted by b33j at 11:11 PM on December 17, 2008

Is it possible that they will be replacing the mailboxes in the neighborhood soon, and this is your new key? Perhaps they will be installing something like this, and the accompanying notice has not yet arrived.
posted by kyleg at 11:12 PM on December 17, 2008

The standard "come down and try to start it" promo requires a whole bunch of legit-but-probably-not keys. In fact, you'd expect that the car company the dealership deals would provide the keys. They'd have to *not* be duplicates in order for this to work, since *somebody's* key should work. "factory duplicate" keys don't work there.

How about this scam? Unlike the company-sponsored promo, this one one is just using the key as a prop--there's no claim that it'll start anything. So, their approach would be to have a Chinese factory grind them 100,000 identical keys to be glued on: factory duplicates.
posted by Netzapper at 11:26 PM on December 17, 2008

(As an amateur locksmith, I've always wondered about those come-down-and-start-it promos. Even if the keys don't start anything on the local lot, there're only so many combinations of keys possible... if you could amass enough of those keys to find the ones that open the widest range of locks, you could build a kit that let you unlock any car of that brand. Given mechanical tolerances, you probably wouldn't need that many even. Maybe 50?

(Unless, of course, all the keys are identical except for one. I guess that'd be cheaper. Damnit.))
posted by Netzapper at 11:30 PM on December 17, 2008

I used to live in an apartment complex that had a large package sized mailbox. When something large came the mailman would put the key to the big box in my mailbox, then I would use it to open the big box and get the package. Generally the lock on the big box will hold the key once it's been opened.

or perhaps one of your neighbors is trying to tell you something...
posted by jtoth at 3:43 AM on December 18, 2008

Unless, of course, all the keys are identical except for one.

Or you go down to the dealership for an actual car key (which is used for the "contest") and this one is a "factory duplicate" which opens nothing.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:36 AM on December 18, 2008

Response by poster: Sounds like the car promo is the likely culprit; jtoth, your suggestion is out since both of the mailboxes in question are attached to private residences.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:45 AM on December 18, 2008

Perhaps the key was glued to a postcard promoting something but that the cold caused the glue to fail, leaving the key in your mailbox. Hard to confirm, since you likely threw out any such promos with the rest of your junk mail.
posted by msbrauer at 4:24 PM on December 18, 2008

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