VIDEO: Bookstore pulls locks from shelves

By Samuel Greenfield and Derek Kirk

The Ryerson campus bookstore has pulled combination padlocks from its shelves after a Ryersonian investigation showed they are easily opened with a shim device.

The black 78/50 combination padlocks manufactured by Abus Security Tech Germany can be opened with a simple shim tool produced from an aluminum can and the aid of a YouTube video – all of this despite the company’s claim on its website that the locks are “impossible to open with a shim tool.”

Ryersonian reporters purchased two of the padlocks, which retail for about $6, from the Ryerson campus bookstore. Following directions from the online video, they were able to successfully pick both locks.

Watch: Abus lock picked with aluminium shim. 

A spokesperson for the company said they stand by their statement but questioned whether or not The Ryersonian had actually obtained the most recent version of the locks with the anti-shim feature.

“I went back and I took a look at when the bookstore bought through their agreement, and they did buy a lot of product in 2009, which is when anti-shim came out,” says Kevin Draper, director of sales and operations of Abus Canada.

“Prior to 2010, you could shim a lock open. And then we brought out the technology that we brought out … what we did was we put a notch into the shackle and that engages with an additional nub that we put inside the lock. So the two of them kind of interface together so you can’t slide a shim down there.”

But both locks purchased by Ryersonian staff appear to have the telltale tongue and groove that Draper described.

This process does not damage the padlocks, so after their locker has been broken into, students claim to find their locks secured but their lockers empty.

“Around 50 per cent of the locker thefts we’ve seen occurring since September up until the end of February have been where the student comes back to their locker and finds their locker secure,” says Keith Christie, program director at Ryerson’s security investigations office. “Unfortunately people are not using good quality locks on their lockers,” he says.

According to Ryerson security, more than 30 lockers have been broken into so far this semester. It’s unknown how many of them used Abus locks.

Ryerson security was aware of the situation, but, according to Christie, they had not  informed the bookstore of the issue.

“At this point we have not spoken to (the bookstore) about the sale of the lock they’re using,”  Christie told The Ryersonian last week.

“I know the lock you’re referring to, and I’ve seen the video. It was one of the things that we realized very early in the investigation, that this is one of the methods.”

Some students, such as those in biology, have been more vulnerable to theft since they cannot take electronics into labs for fear of contamination. Students must leave their valuables unattended in lockers secured with locks such as those sold at the bookstore.

Biology student Christina Wattson had her locker broken into two weeks ago. In addition to the theft of her laptop, she also lost her driver’s licence and her SIN card. She hasn’t been able to recover anything.

“It’s always during our lab periods so they know the hours that it’s happening and that nobody’s in the hallways,” says Wattson. “They’re using the little pop cans and they’re not even breaking our locks; they’re just opening them and raiding our lockers … I had to get everything replaced and I spent money doing that.”

Ryerson president Sheldon Levy acknowledged the problem and said compensation for students who had valuables stolen is an insurance issue and would have to be discussed.

“Yes, security is investigating, the bookstore is not selling faulty locks. However, some locks at the bookstore can be broken into using a particular technique,” Levy said. “The university is not liable for any things stolen.”

Levy did, however, say that more security cameras would be installed on the second floor of Kerr Hall, where inadequate security, combined with infrequently travelled corridors, has made lockers an easy source of quick cash for thieves.

According to Christie, “Kerr Hall is a very accessible building, there are umpteen access points (where) … you can get into that building.”

Assuming the locks are being falsely advertised as shim-proof, Toronto lawyer Sara Zborovski, with Gilbert’s LLP, suggests that students could consider seeking compensation from Abus.

“You’d probably want to get a group together and I would recommend writing to the company and trying to settle the case … that’s what I always recommend. Litigation is not fun,” Zborovski says.

“It sounds like they’re in trouble, but I’d need to see the packaging, I’d need to see if there are any disclaimers on the website.

“You’d want to look at the representations made by the company and the representations made in connection with the purchase of the lock. What they say in connection to the lock, how it can be picked or not picked.”

After meeting with   Ryersonian reporters, John Corallo, director of Ryerson Business Service, has pulled Abus combination padlocks from the shelves.


This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 13, 2013.

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