Fraudulent locksmith scams are on the rise in the U.S. and the number of and ways of deception are expanding exponentially. Consider the following commentary and evidence from AARP.org:
Each day, up to 250,000 Americans make emergency calls to locksmiths. And judging by the Yellow Pages or an online search, there's plenty of help nearby. For instance, in Silver Spring, Md., the telephone directory lists five locksmiths on the same street. In reality, those addresses are for a dry cleaner and four restaurants.
A few states away, within a three-mile radius of my home, 12 locksmiths are listed online. The addresses include a school, supermarket, bank, two pizzerias and a clump of trees (that address doesn't exist). Only one is for an actual locksmith; the others may be scammers waiting to get your call.
The prevalence of fraudulent locksmiths is "a scam that is only growing," says Jim Hancock of the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA), whose 6,000 members must pass background checks.
Besides the thousands of honest pros (who generally charge about $100 to pick a lock), there are many more rip-off artists. In addition to phony addresses, they often have toll-free phone numbers. "The overwhelming majority of locksmiths with an 800 phone number are not legitimate," says Hancock. Typically, you're connected to a call center. You may be quoted a price as low as $15 and assured that a locksmith is en route. In reality, the pro arrives in a van with no fixed address and a scam in mind.
"The fraudsters usually say they can't open the door and need to drill or break off the lock and install a replacement," says Hancock. The work is faulty plus expensive — often $1,000 or more, and demanded in cash.
One should not wait until he or she is locked out in the cold, rain or snow to become a potential victim of locksmith fraud. Ensure that research is done before-hand so that any potential sense of panic which could involve a hasty decision is eliminated. Following are tips and guidance in establishing that peace of mind if this situation should arise. The simple recommendations provided would be much better than a call without research or smashing a window to get inside.
1st – Google or other search engine – find local locksmiths, examine the address or website, and see if one can access any customer reviews. Call and ask the following: What is registered business name, if they are duly licensed, and where there technicians are located? If there is any stammering, “duhs” or uncertainty – have reservations. Also ask the person about the price. Any unbelievable prices, which are too good to be true (such as $20-$30 dollars) translates as hidden costs or the likelihood of a scam.
Other red flags are generic names such as “locksmithing services.” When it is time to actually call, inform the “business” that a written estimate is needed before services and that the technician must bring an ID and certification to perform the services.
In addition, before the technician is sent, inquire about any extra charges such as service call minimums, mileage or emergency hours. Many states require the locksmith to be licensed, ask to see the license if possible. Other possible red flags are not wanting to give a written estimate or the demand for cash only. If the estimates on the phone significantly differ from the estimates at the site – end the transaction. Also stop the work, if there is not a written estimate given at the job site. Any locks required to be drilled out lacks credibility. Ask why. Usually, locksmiths have a host of tools which will unlock any door without drilling it out.
To ensure that a scam is not in progress, follow the above advice and recommendations, to ensure that you will not be a victim of a scam, which not only endangers you pocketbook, but perpetuates the scam in society as a whole.