Thursday, May 6, 2021

Simplex – Anything But Simple: A Cautionary Tale

The days passed with feverish abandon. Both Shira and her mother worked and were out of the house at eight. The younger children went to school, while Shira’s father, a computer programmer, left the house at nine. The house was empty until 2 p.m. when Mrs. Kagan came home, followed by the younger children. From early afternoon until late at night, their palatial home was abuzz with activity.

 

As the wedding day approached, excitement mounted. The phone was ringing non-stop with plans for the sheva brachos, confirmations from out-of-town guests, and last-minute instructions for the photographer, the florist, and the band.

 

Three days before the wedding, Shira and her siblings could barely sleep from stress and excitement. Although they’d been as organized as possible, things were bound to go awry. To her credit, the kallah took everything in stride.

 

The gown was wrinkled? A top-quality cleaners was found. Some of the invitations never arrived? A new batch was addressed and sent the next day. The florist didn’t have orchids in the right shade? Gam zu letovah. Shira and her parents wielded the last-minute frustrations with aplomb and an ever-present smile.

 

“Shira, I’m so impressed with your attitude,” her sister Shevy said late one night, as they were getting ready for bed. “If it was three days before my wedding and the photographer suddenly raised his price, I’d be going bananas.”

 

“It’s all a matter of attitude,” Shira replied. “So many of my friends are still waiting to get married. Boruch Hashem, I’m getting married only a year after I came home from sem. Why should I let the small stuff get to me?”

 

Shevy could only shake her head in awe.

 

All in all, despite the normal ups and downs, things were proceeding smoothly. Shira’s temporary apartment – she and Chezky would be moving to Eretz Yisroel a month after the wedding – was set up, the last-minute arrangements were finalized, the seating chart was revised for the fourth time, and the musicians were given a list of Shira’s favorite songs.

 

“Okay, so what else do we have to do?” Shira nervously asked two nights before the wedding. It was late in the evening, and she was pacing the kitchen floor, lists in hand.

 

“Nothing, Shira dear. Everything’s under control, boruch Hashem,” her mother smiled. “Try to turn in early and get some rest. You’ll need it.”

 

That night, Shira slept like a baby, which was a good thing. She would need all her strength for what was to come.

 

The day before the wedding, at 9 a.m. Mrs. Kagan left to work (she was taking off the week of sheva brachos), the kids went to school, and Shira went out to take care of last-minute errands. Mr. Kagan left the home after everyone, carefully locking the ‘Shabbos lock’ behind him.

 

Precisely at 9:45, as their quiet street was deserted, a shadow emerged from the bushes. A shifty-eyed figure headed to the Kagan’s front door with purposeful steps. It seemed that he knew that no one was home. In one swift motion, he placed a small object next to the lock.

 

Four seconds was all it took. He turned the handle and the door opened smoothly. The intruder was in the house for ten, maybe fifteen, minutes, and he exited the back door, arms filled with loot.

 

Half an hour after the visitor left the Kagan residence, there was no trace that anyone had visited. The gloves the shadowy figure wore covered his prints.

 

At about noon, Shira returned, exhausted. She’d been to her apartment to unpack her dishes, gone to the wig stylist to fix her shaitel, and picked up a pair of white shoes for the wedding. She was looking forward to a quick lunch and some time to say Tehillim before the rest of her family came home.

 

She walked through the front door, humming a cheery tune, and headed straight for the fridge. But wait. Something was wrong. Where was the cordless phone, usually blinking with lots of messages? Not only the phone was gone, but the base had disappeared as well.

 

Feeling numb with shock, Shira walked through the house and realized that someone had recently ‘visited.’ The ornate silver leichter in the breakfront was gone, as was the Yamaha Casio her brother had been practicing on for her sheva brachos.

 

Heart pounding in fear, she ran to her room, knowing what she’d find even before she opened the door.

 

“My gown!” Shira shrieked in horror. Her magnificent gown, which had recently been picked up from the cleaners, was no longer there. Ditto for the crown headpiece she’d chosen, her beautiful gold watch, and an antique set of glassware that had been waiting on her dresser. Numb with horror, she could barely muster the strength to dial her mother’s cell.

 

“Ma!” Shira sobbed into the phone. “Come home quick. Something happened.”

 

“Is everything okay?” Mrs. Kagan yelled, suddenly frantic. “Tell me. What happened?”

 

“Ma, we were robbed,” the kallah said, trembling. “Everything’s gone.”

 

Within minutes, Shira’s parents were home to assess the damage. Mr. Kagan called 911. Shortly thereafter, a police car pulled up to the curb, its siren wailing. As astounded neighbors watched from their windows, the detectives got to work dusting for fingerprints.

 

“Whoever cleaned you out was a professional,” said Detective Sommers with admiration. “He did a remarkable job. No fingerprints.”

 

“How did he get into our house?” Mr. Kagan asked. “The lock hadn’t been picked.”

 

“You probably left it open by mistake,” said the detective. “It happens to the best of us.”

 

“I never leave the door unlocked,” he replied firmly. “And I was the last to leave.”

 

“Perhaps you forgot, just this once. We’re all human,” Detective Parks chimed in. “In the meantime, we haven’t picked up any evidence. No fingerprints, no sign of forced entry, and you don’t have a video camera. If I wouldn’t know better, I’d say you invented the robbery.”

 

Appalled, Mrs. Kagan burst into tears. “Our daughter is getting married tomorrow and her wedding gown was stolen, along with her jewelry. How can you accuse us of making this up? What are we going to do now?”

 

The officers apologized, promised to do what they could, and left.

 

Now it was just the Kagans and their suddenly-empty home, stripped of most of its valuables.

 

There was less than 24 hours to the wedding. No gown, no headpiece, no watch. The kallah was lying in bed, sobbing her heart out. And there was not a shred of evidence for the police to follow.

 

Mi ke’amcha Yisroel.  We are truly a nation of chessed. As soon as word spread, the phone calls came pouring in. Gemachs offered free gowns for the family, neighbors slipped envelopes under the door, and a housewares store invited the Kagans to restock. Though they felt raw and violated, the Kagans resolved to accept the decree from Hashem and make the best of it.

 

Shira, after she recovered from the initial blow, was determined not to let her ‘big day’ be ruined. “After all, at least no one was hurt, boruch Hashem. And look at how wonderful people are.”

 

“But Shira, your beautiful gown…” her mother wailed.

 

“Mommy, let’s not talk about it,” the kallah said with a sigh. “Obviously it wasn’t meant to be.”

 

Just three hours before the Kagans left their home to go to the wedding hall, bedecked in replacement gowns, the phone rang. It was a next door neighbor, sounding hesitant.

 

“Uh, hello? I’m sorry for bothering you on Shira’s wedding day, but this is important. My son Jerry, who just came home from work, remembered something. Yesterday, at about 9:30 in the morning, he was in our dining room looking out the window, when he saw someone standing at your door, placing a small object next to your lock. A few seconds later, the door opened, and he walked right in. Jerry didn’t think twice about it, but when he heard about the robbery, he put two and two together.”

 

Shocked, Mrs. Kagan called the police, who took a statement from Jerry and reviewed videos from the neighbor’s front walk, which was protected by surveillance video. Incredibly, footage showed a swarthy man hiding in the bushes between the two homes, then walking to the Kagan home, holding something in his closed hand, and walking in four seconds later.

 

The detectives looked at each other, sounding sheepish. “We’d like to apologize for not taking you seriously and suspecting that you left the door open. Now we know how the thief got in.”

 

“What was he holding? An electronic door opener?” the Kagans asked.

 

“Actually, all he had is a simple magnet. It’s the newest gizmo that thieves use to break into homes,” said the police.

 

As the Kagans listened intently, the officers explained.

 

“Your combination lock, which you thought was protecting your home, can be easily ‘picked’ with a magnet. The magnet is placed next to the lock and manipulates the internal mechanism to allow the lock to be opened without inputting a combination. It is actually quicker than punching in the code,” said one of the officers.

 

The good news, the detectives said, was that their neighbor’s video camera was the first ‘break’ in the case. “Now that we have the perp’s outline, we’ll run it against our existing mug shots,” they said. “We should ID him within a day.”

 

As the Kagans danced at Shira’s wedding in borrowed gowns, with smiles on their faces, New York’s Finest nabbed the crook who cleaned out the Kagan home and nearly destroyed the simcha. During sheva brachos, most of the valuables were recovered, and the brazen thief was behind bars.

 

Yet, this is not the end of our tale. In fact, it’s only the beginning.

 

– – – – –

 

According to Attorney Simcha Schonfeld, Esq., of Koss & Schonfeld, LLP, who together with the Law Offices of Solomon Klein filed a class-action lawsuit against KABA ILCO, manufacturer of the popular Simplex and Unican push-botton locks, this discovery can have powerful – and dangerous – repercussions.

 

“This is a huge story,” says Schonfeld, whose firm was among the first to file the lawsuit and was joined by several other firms from across the country. “Many of the most popular models of Simplex and Unican locks, whether they are used to protect the runways at JFK Airport, the doors of large chain hotels, or private homes, are susceptible to being opened with a strong magnet that can be purchased by anyone for a few dollars. I have personally tested the locks, as have skilled experts and young children. The ease with which these locks can be breached is stunning. It’s a clean entry, with no sign that the lock has been picked.”

 

According to Schonfeld, the defect in these locks has been known for some time. However, only select individuals knew about it. In recent months, more and more people have learned of the problem. In court filings, the company admitted that it was made aware of the problem in August of 2010.

 

“We first heard about this possibility last year, when the news was still a secret,” said Schonfeld. “We tried opening several locks in the New York area and managed to outwit them all. We realized that there was a serious security problem across the country.”

 

Simplex and Unican locks, usually known in the frum community as “Shabbos locks,” are some of the most popular locks in the world. “Kaba is a multi-billion dollar multinational corporation,” Schonfeld explains. “They service the US government, businesses and private homes across the country and throughout the world. According to figures made available by the Office of Budget and Management, The Department of Defense alone has done $319 millionworth of business with them.”

 

“So what if these locks can be picked by the right guy with the right magnet?” I ask. “What are the odds that someone will actually try something like this on my front door?”

 

“You might want to take your chances,” Schonfeld explained. “But government agencies, hotels and airports can’t afford to be at risk. This is quite literally a matter of national and personal security. Every single defective Simplex and Unican lock must be repaired or replaced, at a possible cost of over a hundred dollars. The repercussions here are enormous.”

 

“How can you file a lawsuit for damages, if there was no loss of life or limb?” I persist.

 

“This is what we call a consumer class-action. That is, we are seeking to have the consumers of these locks compensated for their economic loss incurred by buying a defective product and the expense they will incur in repairing it. As for personal injuries or property damages, there is simply no way to discern whether there was loss of life or limb,” Mr. Schonfeld stressed. “We can’t possibly determine with any modicum of certainty the number of homes, businesses or facilities that may have been breached or robbed by a magnet-wielding thief, because when a lock is opened with the magnet, there are no telltale signs. It appears as if the homeowner simply forgot to lock the door.

 

“Let me make this clear: There are literally millions of these locks installed across the world. Simplex and Unican are of the most popular locks available, because they are simple, easy to use, and – until now – considered foolproof. It’s only a matter of time before the crooks out there discover how easy it is to ‘visit’ someone on their list, if they haven’t already figured it out.”

 

“So what is the company claiming in their defense?” I asked.

 

“It appears that after the lawsuit was filed, Kaba employed a change in the design of the internal mechanism that addressed the problem. Our preliminary testing indicates that the new locks they sell no longer can be opened with a magnet. But to date, Kaba has not taken any steps to address the locks that are already in use. However, there are industry regulations that govern the magnetic force that a pushbutton lock must be able to withstand, which would appear to confirm that the concern at issue in our case has been known by the industry for quite some time. Kaba refers to the magnets as ‘rare earth magnets,’ implying that they are difficult to obtain. This is somewhat misleading. ‘Rare earth magnets’ have been available for decades, and, contrary to the implication of its name, a rare earth magnet can be easily purchased online for about ten dollars apiece.”

 

What does Koss & Schonfeld want the company to do?

 

“We are asking them to take responsibility for the defect, set up a notification program, and fix the locks at their expense. It’s that simple,” concluded Mr. Schonfeld.

 

– – – – –

 

As of this writing, all of the class-actions have been consolidated into a single federal case in Ohio called “In Re Kaba Simplex Locks Marketing and Practices Litigation.” The case was scheduled to have its first hearing with the trial judge on Tuesday, March 8.

 

For further information about this case or to join the class-action, you can reach Mr. Schonfeld directly at 212.796.8916 or via email at sds@kandsllp.com.

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