If you think only residents of private estates have access to the inside, think again.
There are many shops that duplicate condominium access cards. And you are free to make as many copies as you like.
One such company, Mister Minit, which has 12 outlets, duplicates condominium access cards for $32 each.
Others include Soxxi Master, which has eight outlets and charges between $20 and $50 depending on the complexity of the card, and DuplicateAccessCard.com, which lets you make an appointment with it either at its office or your desired location for making a card at $20.
All you have to do is bring an access card to one of these shops and its technicians can duplicate it on the spot.
You do not even need to prove that you are a resident of the condominium.
These shops even allow you to duplicate office access passes.
A Mister Minit spokesman said it has not received any security-related complaints so far and it considers duplicating access cards to be the same as duplicating regular house keys. A manager at DuplicateAccessCard.com, who gave her name only as Jo, said: "If some cards are encrypted, our system will not be able to read them."
She said that she and her colleagues are also software engineers and are trying to improve the duplication technology to overcome encryption.
Explaining that she saw no real security concern, she said: "If (the buyer) already has a card, and I don't duplicate it, they will just find other suppliers to do it for them."
But property managers and security companies are worried about the prevalence of such services.
Certis Cisco's assistant vice-president of smart solutions Seward Lui said anyone who duplicates an access card "may have violated rules and regulations set by the issuing party" such as employers, condominiums or organisations.
Certis Cisco, which provides access card services, uses cards which have added security features to prevent duplication.
For buildings which require more security, features such as fingerprint authentication are also used.
Even those in the real estate industry are seeing red over these services. (See report on the right.)
Managing director of Barringham International Property Management, Mr B. H. Jalil, 46, stressed that the main problem with such "irresponsible" duplication service is that it allows more than the maximum number of tenants to reside in a single unit.
"I have seen agents renting a unit to almost 20 people, mostly foreign workers," said Mr Jalil, whose company manages condominiums such as Still Mansion and Atrium Residences. "I have written to the owners of the units saying they have breached their tenancy agreements.
"I give them up to seven days to reduce the number of tenants per unit, but many do not comply."
Mr Jalil has raised the matter with the authorities, but the police told him that duplication of such key cards is not illegal.
According to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the subletting of rooms for residential purposes is only allowed for long-term stays of six months or more, and the maximum number of occupants per unit is eight, no matter how big the unit is.
What further complicates the matter is that access card duplication services are legal in Singapore.
Mr Jason Chan, a director at intellectual property and technology practice Amica Law LLC, said that as long as the technology used in manufacturing and duplicating the cards is not patented, duplication services are legal.
Operations director at A Best Security, Mr George Yeo, admitted that while there are security measures in place to prevent holders of duplicate access cards from entering a private residential area, it is possible for some to slip through the cracks.
"Normally if someone loses their access card, they will make a report and the card will be immediately deactivated.
"There are also screening measures in place at the guard houses.
"But these measures cannot be 100 per cent."
Card cloned in minutes
He noticed a pamphlet advertising duplication services for condominium access cards and decided to meet the supplier.
Chief executive officer of the Association of Management Corporations in Singapore (Amcis), Mr Jimmie Ling, wanted to find out exactly where and how these suppliers were duplicating private condominium access cards.
Amcis is an alliance of management corporations and owners of residential, commercial or industrial properties here.
Mr Ling, 61, found the pamphlet at a bus stop in Yishun. He called the number printed on it, claiming to be a resident interested in copying his condominium access card.
He met the man at Admiralty MRT station and was shocked to see the entire duplication process completed in a matter of minutes.
Said Mr Ling: "The man reached into his bag and pulled out a simple, oblong device that looked like a franking machine.
"He glided my card through it and gave me the copied card on the spot.
"I'm aware that this unauthorised cloning of access cards has been going on for a couple of years.
"Now they even seem to be providing mobile services where they leave their phone numbers at bus stops and meet you somewhere to do the duplication.
"Usually tenants do this to let in sub-tenants who don't qualify for the access cards.
"These tenants mostly sublet their rooms to foreign workers from China or the Philippines."
Mr Ling also expressed his frustration that the police do not seem to be able to do much about the matter. "It is a dilemma I face. The police say that this is no different from the duplication of house keys."
This article was first published on September 02, 2014.
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