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From (Brock Meeks)  11-Nov-1987 19:01:58
Subj:	[878]  Picking locks on pay phones

Here in San Diego we've had an unusual round of news reports about "a man
with a pony-tail" that is "the only known person in the U.S. that can pick
the lock on pay telephones.  He is known to frequent Country and Western bars
and carry large amounts of change."  He is said to reap about $2,000 a day
from his "speciality."

The police say there are "tell-tail scratch marks" on the phone lock boxes.

Question:  Is there any truth to these news stories?  Is it possible that only
one person in the U.S. can pick the lock on a pay telephone?  If so, what
makes these locks so damn hard to pick.  (And, in what sounds like an easy way
to pick up a good piece of spare change, why isn't this activity more

From *Hobbit* <AWalker@RED.RUTGERS.EDU>  19-Nov-1987 06:23:35
Subj:	[628]  mister pay phone

If they know so much about this guy, why isnt he in the klink already?

Pay phones generally use lever locks.  These were invented ages ago, before
the pin-tumbler, and are still in use on things like phones and safe
deposit boxes.  A properly constructed one is extremely difficult to defeat;
there are numerous false or "confuser" notches built in, and very specialized
tools are probably required.  It would seem more likely that this guy knocked
over a coin collector and stole his key ring.


From Michael Grant <>  20-Nov-1987 07:08:32
Subj:	[574]  Re:  Picking locks on pay phones

I once asked a phoneman emptying one of those safe-like phones about the
security of them.  He told me that they were alarmed, and that if you open
one even with a key at the wrong time, telco will phone the police.  I
have never verified this though, nor hav I ever ripped open a phone and looked
for sensors.  Anyone out there had any experience with this?

I'm also cc'ing this to telecom.


From (Steve Fine)  22-Nov-1987 19:44:30
Subj:	[844]  Re: Picking locks on pay phones

Brock Meeks (brock@pnet01.cts.COM) asked if it was true that only one person in
the U.S. can pick the lock on a pay phone.  I think the uniqueness claim is

I read an article (possibly in the Toledo Blade) in the past few years about
someone who had been picking locks on pay phones in Ohio.  I don't remember the
details but I think the person had made a special set of tools that allowed him
to pick the lock.  Even with the special tools, the phone company claimed that
it would take about 20 minutes to open the lock.
Steve Fine
Internet:         BITNET:   fine@psuvaxg
UUCP:     {allegra|ihnp4|akgua}!psuvax1!gondor!fine

From (Dave Kucharczyk)  24-Nov-1987 01:25:59
Subj:	[1270]  Payphone locks

  Regarding picking a payphone lock it is possible that this person
has made a very special tool that would make it much more likely
that one could pick a payphone lock. 
  Payphone locks use a 9 or ten lever, lever lock. The levers are
very thin and close together to make picking difficult and also have
a ratchet that catches the lever if it is raised too high during 
picking. One could make a tension wrench that also allows the
resetting of the ratchet, like when a key is inserted but you
would have to have a lock from a payphone in the first place.
Then one would need a special tool to throw the bolt on the coin
box cover, but that is a relatively simple item compared to the
tension wrench for the lock.
  By the way the coin box is a removable sealed box that has a special
seal on it.  When the coin collector comes around he pulls the
full box out which closes itself as it is extracted from the
actual payphone housing.  He then inserts a empty and open box
back into the housing which then primes it so that upon removal
it seals itself untill it is reset, which can only be done by
breaking the seal on the box.


From Fred Blonder <>  26-Nov-1987 01:14:36
Subj:	[1484]  Re: mister pay phone

	From: *Hobbit* <AWalker@RED.RUTGERS.EDU>

	Pay phones generally use lever locks.  These were invented
	ages ago, before the pin-tumbler . . .

How many ages ago? The pin tumbler lock was invented by (surprise)
the ancient Egyptians. True, their keys were a bit large by modern
standards (they were hung from the owner's belt.) but the principle
was exactly the same.
					Fred Blonder (301) 454-7690

[I stand somewhat corrected.  However, the principle wasn't *exactly* the
same -- the pins in the lock were only the top halves, and the pegs on
the wooden key formed the lower halves when the key was pushed up into
the slot.  The security was based mostly on the *positioning* of the holes.

Related to this, Larry then asks:]

From: Larry Hunter <hunter-larry@YALE.ARPA>
Subject: Re: mister pay phone

    A properly constructed [lever lock] is extremely difficult to defeat...
That's interesting!  How come I use a pin-tumlber on my door at home?  If 
these things are so good, how come they are not in wider use?        


[HellifIknow.  Perhaps they don't wear as well due to stronger springs, or
get jammed more easily if left outside.  This *is* an interesting question.
I have no theories offhand -- anyone else?


From (Bill Landsborough)   1-Dec-1987 13:14:45
Subj:	[1279]  Re: Picking locks on pay phones

When I was a pay phone coin collector in the early-sixtys in
Bakersfield CA there was a man/woman team that was hitting the Kern
Co. area pretty hard and they made my work pretty hectic.  The way
they would do it was they would both go into the phone booth and the
woman would hold a newspaper up like they were calling want ads.  The
man would pick the lock with very sophisoticated tools and then
"scrape" the bolt down to open the lock.  Pacific Telephone invented a
new C version lock that was "unpickable" but this guy was successful
in picking at least one C version that I remember.

I came into a bar one morning only to have missed him by less than 10
minutes.  When I opened up the door for the coin box there was no coin
box and there was no money laying in the bottom of the phone housing.
I asked the bartender who was the last person to use the phone and he
described the couple to me.  Sometimes he got ~$120....sometimes $.30.
We never caught him while I was there to 1964.

			Bill Landsborough
"Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes."  Proverbs 26:4

From mimsy!cvl!decuac!uccba!ncoast!smith@RUTGERS.EDU (Phil Smith)   2-Dec-1987 06:41:14
Subj:	[634]  Re: mister pay phone

>  It would seem more likely that this guy knocked
> over a coin collector and stole his key ring.

It would not do him a great deal of good to have stolen
keys from a coin collector. The coin box locks are all 
keyed differently. True you will eventually find duplicates
I would think, but not enough for the amount of phones he
has supposedly hit.

From Mike Linnig <>   4-Dec-1987 14:18:54
Subj:	[1928]  RE: Re:  Picking locks on pay phones

I worked as a teleco lineman one fall (an engineering co-op job).  
As part of that work we had to go around and extract the cash
boxes from the payphones.

They gave us a large ring of keys (not a master key).  Incidentally,
we never really touch the coins, they fall into a coin box that gets
replaced when we open up the phone.

As for the phones being alarmed, I really don't believe it.  Except
for high crime areas maybe.  On one occasion we had a phone that
would not open at all.  The key mechinism was jammed (it came from
a high school -- I wonder who jammed it?).  I got to try and
break into the phone -- fun fun.

We tried drilling out the lock.  We trashed a drill bit or two
doing it but we managed to get a nice hole through the lock cylinder.
Well, that was fun, but it got us no where.  It still wouldn't open.

We decided to take the phone off of the wall.  The mounting bracket
was designed so that you only had access to the mounting screws if
the phone was unlocked.  I really don't remember how we did it, but
we got it off of the wall (probably by brute force -- I had a BIG partner).

By the way, no alarms went off.  No police arrived on the scene.  Remember
this was in a high school -- If they alarmed phones in general, I wouldn't
expect them to have the high school phone disabled.

Anyway, we managed to get the damn thing open by lots of prying with
large screwdrivers (used as crowbars) and some hammering.  The phone
was totally worthless -- but we got the money back to the telco
(the phone had to be replaced anyway, can't leave them until they
fill up with coins).

This was a small telco in southern indiana, Bell systems and
GTE may do things differently.


ps.  Don't do this with your phones, someone MAY get annoyed (grin)

From uunet!kitty!larry@RUTGERS.EDU (Larry Lippman)   5-Dec-1987 09:37:44
Subj:	[3628]  Submission for (Coin telephone security)

>  He told me that they were alarmed, and that if you open
> one even with a key at the wrong time, telco will phone the police.

	If this is true, it only applies to newer electronic coin telephones,
and NOT the traditional single-slot coin telephones such as the WECO free
standing types (1A, 1C series) or the WECO "panel-mounting" types (2A, 2C
	The only thing close to an "alarm" is that some coin telephones had
a coin "bank" [the proper term] with an electrical contact on the top.  When 
the bank gets full of coins, a ground is effectively placed on this contact.
This ground is placed in series with a resistor which places a high resistance
ground to one side of the telephone line.  This condition can be periodically
scanned by automatic equipment in the central office to ascertain if a coin
telephone bank is full.  Actually, I have only seen this done on some early
multi-slot coin telephones during the 1960's, and I don't believe this feature
was even provided on single-slot coin telephones.
	Coin telephone repairpersons usually have no keys for access to the
coin bank portion of a coin telephone.  There is actually no need for them
to have access, since all repairs can be made with the upper housing opened.
Opening the upper housing gives no access to the coin bank; you would need
something like string and chewing gum :-) to extract any coins from the bank.
Restricting coin bank keys to coin collection (and not repair) personnel
gives telephone companies a better sense of security.
	Coin banks have a sliding cover with an interesting lever mechanism;
the coin banks are intended to be provided with a wire seal.  With the seal
intact, the bank can be inserted and removed from a coin telephone ONLY ONCE.
There is no way to remove a full coin bank and open the cover to get access
to the coins without breaking this seal.
	Quite frankly, telephone company security personnel seem more paranoid
about employee theft from coin telephones than from theft committed by the
general public.  Occasionally, a malfunctioning coin collection mechanism
will cause a few coins to spill into the upper housing where a repairperson
might have access to them.  The proper procedure is to take the coins, place
them in a special envelope, label it and seal it right away; the envelope
is to be turned in to supervisory personnel as soon as possible.  Some BOC
security personnel seem to have nothing better to do than plant "marked"
coins in the upper housing of a coin telephone, and try to bait some
repairperson into not properly turning in the money.
	I also find amusing the following introductory paragraph as quoted 
from a BOC coin telephone service manual: "Social changes during the 1960s
made the multi-slot coin station a prime target for: vandalism, strong arm
robbery, fraud and theft of service.  This brought about the introduction
of the single slot coin station and a new environment for coin service."
Social changes?! :-)
	My knowledge of coin telephones ended with the single-slot series
mentioned above.  I have almost no idea what happens inside the new-fangled
coin telephones with CRT's and credit-card readers.

<>  Larry Lippman @ Recognition Research Corp., Clarence, New York
<>  UUCP:  {allegra|ames|boulder|decvax|rutgers|watmath}!sunybcs!kitty!larry
<>  VOICE: 716/688-1231        {hplabs|ihnp4|mtune|utzoo|uunet}!/
<>  FAX:   716/741-9635 {G1,G2,G3 modes}   "Have you hugged your cat today?" 

From Bob Kusumoto <>   4-Dec-1987 21:19:09
Subj:	[1096]  Re:  Picking locks on pay phones

I don't know about these new phones that other companies other than MaBell are
putting out but the old standard pay phones are not alarmed. They have 8
tumbler locks on them so it is VERY difficult to pick these open. I have heard
stories about people hooking up a van to a pay phone to pull it out and the
axle was ripped out from the van. Another story from the north (Canada) was to
pour water into the coin slot, let it freeze over then hit the phone so it 
splits open. The reason why the phone company switch to these more secure pay
phone was that people were breaking into the older models and they needed to 
collect more money (by the way, the phone company spends aprox $1800 per pay
phone plus any other extras they want to add like a light or special set-up for

Hope this information helps.

Bob Kusumoto
	BITNET:   kus3@sphinx.uchicago.bitnet
	UUCP:  ...{!inhp4!gargoyle,!oddjob}!sphinx!kus3

From (Brock Meeks)   6-Dec-1987 11:09:01
Subj:	[849]  Re: Picking locks on pay phones


I have happened to get a copy of that article you read in the Blade re:
the guy with the special tools.  I asked at NATA, of the Medeco folks, if 
they had heard of our San Diego coin bandit, they had, he is the *same*
guy as in the blade; an industry legend.  

Seems the security folks have tracked him across the nation.  He used
to be a machinist.  He's never hit a Medeco lock, only "old telco" 
boxes (whatever those are).

As for the 20 minute time frame?  Forget it.  The guys I talked to said,
"He's just about as fast as a guy with a key."  The favorite story: the
time he cracked a box right before jumping on an airline, in broad daylight,
waiting to board a plane.

From (Brock Meeks)   6-Dec-1987 11:09:30
Subj:	[1581]  Re:  Picking locks on pay phones

> He told me that they were alarmed, and that if yo upoen one, even with a
> key at the wrong time, telco will phone the police.

This is wrong, according the pay phone specialits I interviewed for an 
article I wrote.  I was just at the North American Telecomm. Association
show in Dallas, and they had a big payphone pavillion there.

The only way these guys know a phone has been hit is when they come to
empty it.

I spoke with the folks at Medeco (they had a big display of their "virtually
pick proof lock) and they verified the problem with pay phone locks.

You see, it seems that with the influx of private pay phones, these guys were
starting to toss "crap on the market" (crap being locks) and they cared more
about profits than good security (a topic of conversation that only recently
began getting any kind of hearing in the pay phone industry).

BUT...cracking the lock box is not the BIG DEAL.  The *real* story is that
guys are ripping off the expense COMPUTER BOARDS and electronics in the
upper half of the phones.  These boards run some $300 or $400 a piece and
according to one security analyst, "There's a huge black market for these
boards."  Interestingly enough, the locks protecting the electronics
are far easier to pick than the coin box lock.

"These guys are more worried about protecting $20-$50 in coins rather than
$300-$400 in electronics," the rep from Medeco said.

You figure it.

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