Introduction: Use E-mail and a Dog Tag to Get Your Lost Keys (and Other Stuff) Back.

We all hate to lose things, but keys are a special problem. With stuff like luggage, you can put a little tag with contact information and hopefully the finder will give you a call. Keys are different. On the one hand, you want to have contact information on them so people know how to get them back to you. On the other hand, you don't want to have contact information on them because if a thief finds them, you will have given him directions to your house, your car, and maybe even your business, along with the means to get in. Nowadays, with reverse phone lookup, you might not even want to put your phone number on your keys.

Here is a simple way to increase the chances of getting your lost keys back without revealing who you are, where you live, or any other personal information. The basic idea is this: set up an email account with a user name that tells nothing about you (like,, for instance). Then attach a dog tag to your keys that says, "If found, please email ". If a good citizen finds your keys, he can contact you, but if a thief finds them he won't know where you live. That way, he can't get in and make off with that bag of styrofoam peanuts you've been meaning to recycle.

Step 1: Set Up a "lost Keys" Email Account.

Set up an email account with a user name and email address that reveal nothing about you. This is your "lost keys" address. It is important that this address be something really anonymous, like Because you will be attaching this address to your keys, you don't want to put information a thief might use to find your house. An email address like would be a bad idea, because if a thief finds your keys, he'll head straight for your house, let himself in, and steal things. For instance, he might help himself to those monogrammed towels Aunt Gladys gave you.

Step 2: Find a Dog Tag Vending and Engraving Machine

Find a store that has a vending machine for making customized dog tags. These machines are more common than you might think, so they are pretty easy to find. Large pet stores are a good place to look. My local PetSmart has one. So does the Walmart down the street. The tags cost about US$5, including the engraving.

Step 3: Choose a Good Dog Tag.

Using the dog tag machine, choose a tag you won't mind having on your key chain. The machine I went to had heart-shaped tags, bones, and so on. It had an enticing "High School Musical" tag, but that was a little macho for my taste... I keep my keys in my pocket, so I went with a tag with nice, smooth edges.

Step 4: Engrave Your "lost Keys" Address on the Tag.

It is a good idea to include a helpful message like, "If found please email ". Do NOT be tempted to add your name, phone number, address or any other information that could direct a thief to your house, where he will steal things. You don't want anyone taking those carpet remnants you've been saving, do you?.

Step 5: Put the Engraved Dog Tag on Your Keychain.

Now, if a good citizen finds your keys he can get in touch with you, but if a thief finds them he can't go to your house and steal things. Like that barbed wire collection you've been working so hard on.

Step 6: Bonus Ideas

You don't need a separate "lost keys" address for each set of keys. You can give identical tags to your friends and family. This works even if they don't live near you. The people you share with don't even need to know about email. For instance, you could give a tag with your "lost keys" address to Aunt Gladys (as a thank you for those monogrammed towels). That way, if she loses her keys, you will get an email and can help get them back to her.

If you are the only person using your "lost keys" email address, you can just check for new mail when you lose your keys, but this can be inconvenient if several people (such as Aunt Gladys and your friends) are using the address on their keys, too. To make things easier for yourself, set up the "lost keys" address to forward all mail to your regular account. This will relieve you of needing to check the "lost keys" account. You might get an email before you even notice you lost your keys. (In GMail, you can set up forwarding by logging in, choosing "Settings", then "Forwarding and POP/IMAP", and setting the forwarding address to your main address.)

You can use the "lost keys" dog tags on stuff besides keys, like your briefcase or whatever.