Being locked out of your home or car is embarrassing. Most consumers will search for local locksmiths online and get the cheapest locksmith who can do the job right away. What they don’t realize is that locksmith scammers are often hiding in the search results, ready to take advantage of desperate and unsuspecting consumers.
Emergency locksmith scams are common, especially as many states don’t require locksmiths to be licensed.
Note on California: California has legislation governing locksmiths that requires a valid license. As part of the license requirements, applicants must undergo a criminal background check through the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
How the Scam Works
There are many variations of the locksmith scam, but here’s the basic premise:
You search online for “emergency locksmith” or “locksmith near me” and click on one of the ads or a local listing.
Most locksmith scammers use deceptive ads that forward you to a fake website that looks legitimate. Some even use a toll-free number that sends you to a call center.
You find a locksmith for “only $25” but when they arrive they want to charge you $250 or more for the service. When you dispute the charge, they say the $25 is only their dispatch fee, doesn’t include labor, and that the job was more complicated than usual.
Excuses may include that you have a high-security lock, an unconventional lock, or that it was previously rekeyed to be “un-pickable” and they had to drill and replace it.
If you refuse to pay, they often threaten to call the police. And if you don’t have enough cash, you may be asked to go and draw money at an ATM.
7 Signs of a Locksmith Scam
1. Suspiciously low rates
Scammers will typically use cheap quotes to grab your attention and lure you away from legitimate locksmiths.
No legitimate locksmith will claim they’re able to do the job for between $20 and $30. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
2. Accepts only cash
If a locksmith says they only accept cash or debit card payments, it’s a red flag. This is because credit card payments may be used to track them down.
A genuine locksmith is willing and able to accept credit card payments.
3. No receipt after payment
A reputable locksmith will give you an itemized receipt after the job is complete. It will typically include the locksmith’s or company’s name, address and contact details.
Fake locksmiths will seldom give you a receipt or will tell you they’ll send it later, which never happens.
4. Slow response time
Locksmith scammers often take hours to arrive despite promising they’ll get to you in half an hour or less. Their usual excuse is that their last job took longer to complete. The real reason they’re late is often that they are further away from you than they told you over the phone.
5. Drives an unmarked vehicle
A professional locksmith will usually arrive in uniform in a marked vehicle that bears the name and logo of the company. If they don’t have a branded uniform and vehicle, it’s a red flag.
6. Have to drill your lock
A telltale sign that you’re dealing with a scammer is if they have to drill your lock. Professional locksmiths have the right tools for the job and won’t need to drill it.
Locksmith scammers often drill locks to drive up the cost and because they’re unable to do a proper job. In the end, they leave you with a broken lock and a bill for hundreds of dollars.
7. Poor phone etiquette
Scammers often operate under several company names. When you call a number, the person answering the phone should mention the name of the business. Instead, if the greeting is “locksmith service” or “morning, how can we help you?” be wary.
Tips on How to Avoid a Locksmith Scam
- Find a legitimate locksmith before you need one.
- Check locksmith company reviews on BBB Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.
- Familiarize yourself with the signs of a locksmith scam.
- Verify the locksmith is licensed to work in your state (if required by your state).
- Get an estimate in writing, detailing all applicable fees.
- Ask if additional charges might apply.
- Don’t allow a locksmith to drill your lock.
- Ensure you will get a receipt.
- Make sure the locksmith has a marked vehicle and write down his license plate number.
- Don’t fall for cheap prices that are too good to be true.
- Only pay the locksmith when you’re satisfied with the result.
- Ask if they accept credit cards. If they don’t, get another locksmith.
- Toll-free numbers may mean they’re not local.
The Better Business Bureau has resources to help consumers and businesses. You can report a scam (whether you’ve lost money or not), file a complaint against a business, leave a review of a business you’ve used and report an ad.
Visit our blog for more tips and scam alerts.