Did you ever notice that people never seem to get locked out of their home, business or vehicle on a nice, sunny day – when they have nowhere to go? It never happens that way; lockouts always happen at the most inopportune times. In the sleet and snow, just before you need to pick the kids up from school, while you are in the middle of a big project, or while you’re trying to get your groceries into the house on a hot, summer day — that’s the time you’ll end up locked out.
When you are locked out of your home, office or car you are at your most vulnerable and most likely to fall victim to one of several common locksmith scams. Our area is particularly hard hit by scammers, since Pennsylvania is one of the states that don’t require locksmiths to have a license to operate. Knowing that scams do exist and understanding the ways a dishonest locksmith could prey on customers in trouble will keep you from becoming a victim.
Red Flags: Can you Spot the Locksmith Scam?
Low, low prices on the ad: Low prices are usually a good thing – but if they are too good to be true, watch out! Unscrupulous locksmiths place advertisements offering super low rates to get you back into your home or car – but there’s a catch. Once the locksmith arrives and assesses your situation, the price escalates rapidly. This brand of scammer is also fond of the disassemble and run technique – taking your lock completely apart and then charging y you more to put it back together.
Avoiding the low price scam: Avoid ads offering lock service for $5, $9 $12 or some other outrageously low fee. If the locksmith would spend more money in gas driving from his stated location to yours, you can expect to see the advertised fee multiply very quickly once he arrives.
The Middleman: This opportunistic “entrepreneur” isn’t a locksmith at all. He’s set up a business to prey on people who have been stranded at the mall or locked out of their homes. His goal is to get you to call, and then he’ll take over and find a (possibly) legitimate locksmith and add a significant surcharge for his “help”. By inserting himself between you and the service provider, he’s tacking on extra fees and earning money from your distress.
Spot the Middleman: If you spot an ad that claims to service your area – or a wide range of areas nearby but does not have a local exchange or office, keep looking. A deceptive middleman may advertise to open locks in “Levittown, Lancaster, Yardley and Malvern PA”, but actually be located in South Jersey, New York or even Hawaii for all you can tell from his ad. Interview a prospective locksmith before he or she comes to you – and ask the dispatcher for their location to see if they know anything about your region at all. You can also look a prospective firm’s address up on the web to see if there is truly a locksmith service at the location they claim to occupy.
Fake Listings: Potentially the worst of the worst – they are not really a locksmith at all. This imposter can do more harm than good, since they lack the considerable training a real locksmith has. The fake locksmith can even damage your lock beyond repair; with this locksmith scam, you could end up locked out and with a broken deadbolt or car door.
Don’t be fooled by a fake: When you call, you should reach a professional business, one that states a business name (that matches the one in the ad). When they arrive, the purported locksmith should be in a marked van or vehicle, not an unmarked personal car. Their locksmith tools should consist of more than a rusted screwdriver and duct-tape, and disassembling your lock should be an option of last resort, not the firs thing they try.
Failing to ask you for identification before they attempt to open the lock is a warning sign too – they should be professional enough to care that you actually have the right to enter the property you are breaking into.
How to Protect Yourself from Locksmith Scams
Do your research before you need it: Take a few minutes to find a reputable locksmith before you’re shivering next to your locked car in subzero temperatures. Finding a locksmith when you have the time to truly look will save you a lot of heartache and stress if you do get locked out. Do your homework in advance and keep the locksmiths information in your wallet, phone or other place that you will likely have with you when you are locked out. You’ll be far less likely to fall prey to a scammer if you already have a locksmith to call.
Ask for an estimate: When you call. Ask for a general estimate of cost. While the dispatcher you speak to may not be able to quote you an exact price until the locksmith has a chance to look at your unique situation, there would be at least a ballpark idea of fee before anyone is sent to your location. Very high or very low fees could be a sign of trouble.
Check Ratings and Reviews: You can find ratings of local locksmiths on Yelp and on Angie’s List – but word of mouth is better. Yelp does a decent job of weeding out fake positive reviews, but some do slip through the cracks, so be wary of glowing online reviews that all seem to be written by the same person. Your own personal network of friend and family is best== you can even ask on FB, twitter or other social media with the hash tag of your town and #locksmith.
Thorough research and preparation before a lockout is the best way to protect yourself from scams. If you’re in or around Chester County and need help right away, or simply want to learn more about finding the right locksmith for your needs, contact us or follow our blogs. Our professional, caring staff is here when you need us most. You can reach us anytime at (610) 644-5334 or send an email to [email protected]