We’ve all done it — placed a spare key someplace near the front door and driven off, feeling a little too confident and secure. The problem is that 33 percent of home burglars enter through the front door, so hiding your key anywhere nearby only makes it easier for them to break into your home.

In fact, most burglars tend to commit their crimes close to their home and often spend time watching potential targets to gather information. Perhaps a potential thief even watched you put that key under your doormat.

“Any place you can think of to hide your key, the bad guy has probably thought of, too,” says Jeffrey A. Slotnick, president of Setracon Enterprise Security Risk Management Services in Tacoma, Washington, and board-certified physical security professional and Certified Protection Professional.

Avoid these hiding spots

Thieves also will likely look in these tried-and-true hiding places (admit it, you’ve probably used most of these yourself). That’s why they — in addition to the doormat — are the worst places to hide your spare key:

  • Under and inside flower pots.
  • Under rocks (especially anything that looks like a hide-a-key rock).
  • Inside your mailbox.
  • Any metal surface that can hold a magnetic key holder. The same goes for your car keys. Any car thief can locate a magnetic key holder and steal your car in a matter of seconds.

“The bottom line is, don’t hide keys,” Slotnick says. “There’s no place to hide a key that a burglar hasn’t already looked. And if you put it somewhere really unusual or hard to find, you probably won’t remember where it is anyway.”

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    Store keys in the right place

    Slotnick typically asks nearby friends and trusted neighbors to hold spare keys to his house at their residences, in case of emergency, rather than hiding the key somewhere.

    Or consider a push-button lock box, which you can mount on the outside of your home in an inconspicuous place. The lock box allows you to create a combination and gives you more security than simply hiding a key.

    When it comes to storing spare keys in your home — including those entrusted to you by neighbors — think inside the box. Slotnick suggests using a locking key storage cabinet or safe, which is mounted on a wall inside your home. This can be purchased online or at a home-improvement store.

    Slotnick recommends that, instead of hanging the keys you use daily on a hook near the door, that you also use the key storage cabinet for storing them when not in use. Still, everyone in the house has to keep a key to the cabinet with them.

    “The discipline is in educating the members of your family how to use it,” he says.

    “Most times, the issue isn’t being locked out — it’s a misplaced key,” Slotnick says. This is why part of a good key control system is a tracking device, which can be purchased for around $30 or less.

    The device connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and attaches to your key ring, then uses two-way geolocation technology to help you quickly locate your keys. An alert feature notifies your smartphone when your keys are close by or nearly out of range, as a warning to not leave them behind.

    Be smart about key control

    Having control over your keys at all times is the only way to ensure they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

    A woman and her husband who's carrying a brown paper bag are entering a home through the front door.

    “If you’ve loaned a spare key to someone who didn’t return it, or you’ve had a falling out or hostile breakup with someone who has a spare key, have your locks changed,” Slotnick says.

    And anytime you move into a new house, have a locksmith change all the locks. You may not know what kind of people lived there before you, or to whom they gave spare keys in the past. A locksmith is an inexpensive investment in your peace of mind and an extra measure to protect your home.

    Knowing where your car keys are at all times is also important. Don’t make these frequent mistakes:

    • Leaving your key in the ignition while the car is unattended.
    • Keeping the car door unlocked because you’ll “only be gone a second.”
    • Leaving key rings or spare keys lying on the sill in front of unsecured windows, which can be reached from the outside.

    Safety and security are important for your household and belongings. So get smart about storing your spare keys — and rely on your doormat only to wipe your feet.

    Jessica Santina is a Northern Nevada-based freelance writer and editor for MoneyGeek.com whose work has appeared in numerous publications, blogs and websites.