You’ve probably heard about locksmith scammers before. And you likely believe the warnings are greatly overblown. But this is actually a serious issue in our industry. So let’s learn more about what a locksmith scammer is, why they are so prevalent, and how to avoid falling for a scam.

What is a Scammer? A locksmith scammer is someone who is out to get as much money from a customer as possible. Are they real locksmiths? Yes, they can do at least some basic locksmith work. Are they good locksmiths? No. And they’re obviously not big on ethics. Scammers will overcharge for shoddy work that often has to be repaired by a legitimate locksmith, costing you even more money.

How do People Fall for this? Let’s say you’ve just purchased a new home and want to get your locks rekeyed. You Google local locksmiths and get a ton of listings. You consider yourself fairly search savvy, so you bypass the ads at the top and instead focus on the organic listings. You call a couple places with a lot of reviews and a rating of 4.5 stars or better. The first two locksmiths you call quote a service call of somewhere between $60 and $70, plus either an hourly labor rate (with an estimate of how long the job will take) or simply a flat fee per lock. The third place you call quotes a much lower service call – somewhere between $15 and $25, and tells you the locksmith will provide an on-site estimate for labor. Who do you choose? All things being equal, you’re hiring the cheaper guy, right? And you just got scammed. The locksmith will probably show up in an unmarked vehicle and without a uniform — big red flags. The work that he does will be… ok. And the locks might work just fine. Or maybe they’re not perfect, but they work. Or you might end up with some locks installed upside down. How do I know this? Because we’re often the ones who get called out to fix the mess the scammers made, which means you have now paid twice for what should have been done correctly the first time. Remember how you picked this guy because he was so much cheaper than everyone else? Scammers reel in customers by quoting a ridiculously low service call and being vague on the total cost. Then they make up the difference and then some by grossly inflating labor and parts costs – and sometimes even telling you you need things that are unnecessary — like new locks because what you currently have is poor quality.

Are Locksmith Scammers Prevalent? Think back to the beginning of my example. Remember how I said you get a ton of results if you Google locksmiths? Do a Google search for locksmiths in Rochester, NY. How many results did you get (minus the listings for key duplication kiosks at Walmart and Lowe’s)? Now take a look in the phone book (if you actually have one). There are a couple pages of listings and ads for locksmiths in Rochester. But take a closer look at those listings. See anything odd? Some of those listings have kind of silly names, like “Lock Key” or “Bronx Locksmith.” Look at their phone numbers. Most of them seem strangely similar. And the most telling sign? There are far more listings for locksmiths than liquor stores. Based on web and phone book searches, it would appear that there are tons of locksmiths in Rochester. But did you know there are actually only about five or six legitimate locksmith companies that will come to your car or house to provide service? The rest of those listings are locksmith scammers.

So How do you Identify a Scammer? The best way to identify a scammer is by calling to ask for a quote. Pay attention to: How they answer the phone. Do they identify the name of the company or simply say “locksmith”? Can they quote a firm price?

Most residential and automotive jobs can be easily quoted over the phone. Is the service call noticeably lower than that of other companies? Is the price quoted as “starting at” a certain amount?

Can the employee tell you where the shop is located? Most locksmith businesses these days are mobile, but they will at least give you an idea of where their administrative office is located if you ask.

Another good way of identifying a scammer is by looking at the company’s website. Does it list service locations that are nowhere near Rochester? Is the text oddly phrased or full of typos? Finally, find a locksmith before you need one. Scammers love customers who are in an emergency. Think about it. If you’re on your way to the airport and realize you just locked your keys in your house, are you going to spend time researching ethical locksmiths or are you hiring the first person who answers the phone? Knowing in advance which companies are legitimate will save you from being taken advantage of.