You’ve arrived to your home or business and you are struck by a startling realization: you’ve locked your keys inside and have no way of getting in. Frantically, you turn to your phone, clicking the first locksmith in the search results. That could be the riskiest choice you make in your frantic state. Locksmiths can help unlock doors, but some locksmiths might have other objectives when they arrive.
The Better Business Bureau receives a high volume of complaints about locksmiths every month, with many complaints going unreported. Locksmith scammers routinely overcharge and some even go as far as making a duplicate key, so they can break in when you’re not home. Just because a door needs to be opened doesn’t mean you have to rush your decision and end up being the victim of a scam. Our survival guide can help prevent you from getting your pocket picked instead of your lock!
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Cloaked Identities Fuel Locksmith Scam Growth
In 2015, the Better Business Bureau received so many complaints about scam locksmiths that it ranked among their top complaints. The number of complaints regarding locksmiths has grown substantially since 2010, but is still believed to be significantly underreported.
Many customers don’t even realize they’ve been ripped off, since they don’t know what price is normal or fair. The BBB blames the lionshare of locksmith scams on two companies:
Dependable Locksmith and Basad Inc. operate in major cities across the country, cloaking their true identity with dozens of generic aliases, such as AAA Locksmith, A-1 Locksmith and 24 Hour Locksmith. These aliases are names generally associated with reputable companies, but they are really scammers masquerading in sheep’s clothing.
Experts estimate that 95% of online ads for locksmith services are scams, making it hard for the honest, legitimate locksmiths to compete for advertising and ultimately honest locksmith work Click to Tweet
The problem has become so big, yet Google has not taken much action to seek and destroy locksmith scam advertisements, because they still make money regardless of the legitimacy of the advertisement.
One volunteer attempted to take action. He spent 70 hours a week deleting fake ads from Google. He told New York Times:
At the end of the day, I’d wiped out 1,000 locations and I would think, that’s 1,000 calls that didn’t get made, 1,000 customers who didn’t get scammed.
The rate of ads he was encountering discouraged him. He eventually became overwhelmed and quit his volunteer work trying to stop the scammers.
Scams Picking Pockets Instead of Locks
A locksmith’s fee pays for tools, any licensing costs, continued training and transportation to and from a job. No skilled or reputable locksmith that charges $15 for a job could remain in business. - Robert Vallelunga of ACME Locksmith
Illegitimate charges can range from $200 to over $500. Some extreme cases have seen illegitimate charges venture into the thousand dollar range. One of the biggest signs of a scam is if the price on a Google search is $10-$30. Legitimate locksmith companies cannot charge those prices and stay in business.
But how much should you expect to pay?
- A simple residential lockout shouldn’t cost more than $100 unless you truly live far away from the locksmith. 95% of locks can easily be picked by a trained locksmith, so insist they pick the lock. It will cost a lot more than $100 if they drill or break the lock. Car lockouts will be similar in price. Click to Tweet
- If you need several exterior residential locks rekeyed and a few new keys provided, the service should cost between $100 and $150.
- If evening, weekend, or Holiday services are required, expect to pay at least 2 times what you normally would. This is legitimate and customary to pay an honest locksmith.
Not All Locksmiths Need a License?
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
States that don’t require locksmith licensing make it easier for scammers who know nothing about locksmithing to drill or break locks only to charge an outrageous fee to replace a perfectly working lock.
Florida, New York, and Washington D.C. have some of the highest rates of complaints regarding locksmiths in the United States. But complaints about locksmiths are hard to pin on companies, since the technician may not even be employed in the same state they helped you in. Many locksmith scams circulate from companies using fake addresses or companies utilizing call centers often located out-of-state, or in other countries.
States that do require licensing still face problems. Obtaining a locksmith license is a detailed process, but it does not guarantee that your locksmith will still be legitimate. Even states with locksmith licensing requirements have high rates of complaints regarding locksmiths.
Locksmith Scams Target Wallets, Identity Theft, and More
Many locksmith scams can be more dangerous than an outrageous charge. Locksmith scammers may attempt identity theft or target personal possessions in your home to steal at a later time.
Not all scammers follow the same recipe for scamming. Criminal locksmiths may turn to one or more of the following scams to get what they want.
Identity theft – Organized crime enterprises set up locksmith scams solely to acquire customer’s credit card information. While customers get the service and price they expect, criminals get the customer’s credit card information and either sell it or utilize it for themselves.
Bait-and-Switch – Illegitimate locksmiths will quote low prices such as $10 to $30. Once the locksmith arrives, they begin their price gouging, often claiming the job is more complicated than anticipated and piling on additional cost. Click to Tweet
Cash only scam – Scammers pose as locksmiths who say they take credit cards, but when they arrive, they claim that their machine is broken or experiencing issues. Scammers know if they do a poor job, the customer can dispute the charge with the credit card company, but by paying with cash, there’s no way to dispute or get your money back.
New handle scam –Fraudulent locksmiths claim the only way they can unlock the door is to drill it open or wrench it off. This destroys the door handle and allows the scammer the chance to try selling an overpriced new handle set.
Duplicate key – A scammer makes a copy of your lock so they can enter your home, car, or business when they know you’re away. This allows them easy access to steal your possessions.
Anchor pinning – Replacing pins is what a rekeying job entails. Almost all locks have 5 pins, and a locksmith may anchor the pricing per pin at $12 for four pins, $65 for five pins, and $150 for six or more pins. Once the locksmith pulls off the lock, they tell you, “Good news! You only have 5 pins. It’ll only cost $65.” While they lead you to think you saved money, the reality is you’re being overcharged. Click to Tweet
7 Devious Steps of Locksmith Scams
Step 1: Setup Out of State or Offshore Call Center – Scammers set up an out-of-reach call center to receive service requests from across the country. Sadly, Israel is a scam pipeline with many offshore call centers. Once someone places a service request, the call center contacts a fellow scammer in the area, and they will proceed to rip-off the customer.
Step 2: Use False Listings – Locksmith scam companies hire entire teams to create thousands or even tens of thousands of fake listings across major online directories such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Google, and Yellow Pages. Fake listings help scammers rank in search engines for locksmith keywords, making their listings the first thing potential customers see.
Step 3: Location Poaching to Build Trust – Addresses from real, local locations might be stolen and paired with a local number that gets routed to an out-of-state or offshore facility. Google Maps and Photoshop might also be utilized to put the “company logo” on someone else’s building.
Step 4: Appear to Be Lowest Cost Locksmith – Low priced advertisements may be placed across major search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Ads may claim prices as low as $10 to out -price legitimate companies. Once scammers arrive, they will charge 400-500% more.
Step 5: Dispatching Poorly Trained “Employee” – A “mobile technician” receives the service request and arrives at the scene, usually taking a while to get there. They’re usually not close, and the longer the person has to wait, the more anxious they become, and the more likely they are to pay more.
Step 6: Exploiting Desperate Situations – Locksmith scammers may even use a customer’s family, pets, or children as leverage. Scammers will exploit the situation by charging extra depending on the need. They may see poor weather or young family members and take a longer time than needed to complete service to encourage a customer to pay more for the job to be completed faster.
Step 7: Opening Wallet After Service – Once the locksmith completes their job, they may quote 4-5 times higher than the initial estimate and demand cash instead. Accepting only cash is a way scammers avoid being tracked by credit card companies.
Scammers take advantage of people in desperate situations. They will play off their customer’s anxiety and immediate need and use the situation to ask for more money. Do not let a troubling situation allow you to fall victim to a scam.
10 Warning Signs You Should Find a Different Locksmith
While the threat of being scammed in a situation such as being locked out is real, there are ways to avoid being taken advantage. Locksmith scammers will often exhibit numerous red flags before or after they arrive, and many will charge for the service call even if you don’t go through with the call. Be cautious if your locksmith:
- Advertises unreasonably low prices
- Arrives in an unmarked vehicle
- Answers the phone with a generic greeting like "locksmith services" rather than "Mr. Rekey Locksmith"
- Does not have a bond or insurance
- Has a large collection of negative online reviews Click to Tweet
- Goes straight for the drill or tries to break the lock with a hammer or wrench
- Demands upfront payment
- Accepts only cash
- Has no physical location
- Has only 800 call numbers without a local area code
If your locksmith displays some or many of these warning signs or their pricing seems too good to be true, consider calling a new locksmith. Many proven locksmith companies are available to perform a quality job for a reasonable price.
Can Your Locksmith Pass This Quiz?
While these scams may seem intimidating, there are ways to help you avoid becoming a victim. The Better Business Bureau suggests finding a locksmith you can trust before you need one. One of the best ways is to ask as many questions as you can. Having a thorough understanding of the process can help you trust the locksmith and prevent any unwanted surprises.
Before hiring a locksmith, ask some or all of these questions:
- Where are you located?
- What is your parent company’s name?
- How will you get into the house?
- Will you need to drill my lock? If so, why?
- Can you tell me the exact process?
- Do you rekey or just replace locks?
- Do you need a picture of the lock?
- Can you give me an estimate? What factors will cause this price to change?
- Do you require cash, or can I pay with a check or credit card?
- What’s the name of the locksmith who will be coming?
- Does he/she have a license or certification?
- Will the locksmith have company identification?
- Will they come in a company marked vehicle?
- Does your company belong to Chamber, ALOA, SOPL, or another locksmith trade association?
Don’t put your trust in any locksmith who won’t answer the questions above. If the locksmith company you contact is offended or defensive about any of these questions, take time to contact a different locksmith company that will be open and honest about their business.
What If You’ve Already Been Scammed?
If you’ve fallen victim to a locksmith scam, there is help. Many State Attorney General offices employ staff to mediate between customers and businesses. Some Attorney General staff may also pursue litigation to recoup funds for victims. If you are worried you may have fallen victim to a locksmith scam, contact your state’s Attorney General and report it to the Better Business Bureau to prevent others from falling victim to the same scam.
Another option would be pursue a lawsuit against the locksmith scammer. Federal and state laws prohibit unfair or deceptive trade acts or practices. First, send a demand letter requesting resolution of the problem. Follow up by asking for your money back. Consider taking legal action if you don’t receive a response.
Find a Locksmith You Can Trust
It is important to have locksmith information on hand BEFORE you need it. With many locksmith scams floating around the internet, be sure to choose a locksmith you can trust. Mr. Rekey is a trusted residential locksmith. Mr. Rekey operates in 30 major US cities and has rekeyed over 3 million locks since 1995.
With Mr. Rekey, you can expect one, flat, low price, simple ordering, professional service, and a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Choose a locksmith you can trust. We hope you choose Mr. Rekey.