There has been a very disturbing trend taking place within many of the service related industries that we as consumers rely on. The locksmith industry is no exception.
This trend has reached epidemic proportions and you, the consumer need to be made aware of this problem in order to recognize and protect yourself against these predators that we in the locksmith industry refer to as SCAMMERS.
Who They Are
Scammers are criminals that form a company essentially out of thin air, then inundate the advertising venues to gain a high ranking with their bogus ads offering unusually low prices for their services, in an effort to get you the customer to take the bait. Their continued success is bolstered by the fact that NONE of the large advertising companies, especially on the internet, have any interest in policing their own customer base to make sure that they are not facilitating a criminal enterprise. They all seem to be perfectly content to look the other way while their pockets are lined with YOUR ill-gotten cash.
These criminals have very little capital investment in their companies. This fact allows them to be much more fluid. If they are caught, charged, and convicted of the various laws they break, they can very quickly change names, create new web sites, and be back in business literally the next day. Even if their property is confiscated, there is so little of it that it’s merely pocket change to them.
The laws in most states are extremely weak concerning this type of criminal activity. Even in states that have stronger laws, enforcement is almost nonexistent and the penalties amount to nothing more than a slap on the hand. These criminals have and will continue to operate in the same areas using the same tactics without fear of any serious repercussion for years and years.
How They Operate
If you perform an internet search for “Raleigh Locksmith” for example, you will notice that numerous ads pop up immediately for companies advertising very low cost emergency services, usually something like $19.95 or even less.
The criminals most often gravitate specifically to the emergency house and car opening services because, as mentioned earlier, there is very little capital investment on their part. If the scammer is focusing on house openings, they will typically arrive in a small, unmarked, older vehicle. They will have a cordless drill and some various cheap locks that anyone can buy at the local hardware stores. They will drill your locks out to let you in, ruining them in the process, then try to sell you their new locks at an outrageously marked up cost. $19.95 just turned into $400-$500.
If the scammer is focusing on vehicle opening, they will typically arrive in the same type of small, unmarked, older vehicle. They will usually only have a long reach tool, which is basically a long thin metal rod and an air bag with a hand pump bulb that they use to wedge your window frame out to make room to insert the rod into the passenger compartment and manipulate the interior lock button. They usually charge the advertised low rate for the “emergency service” then charge an additional inflated fee for the opening, which could easily amount to $250 or more. Not only that, but they typically leave plenty of evidence of their presence in the form of damage to your vehicle including, scratched paint, torn weather stripping, bent window frame, scratches on the interior door panel and window tinting, disconnected linkage inside the door, rendering it inoperable in many cases, etc.
The person that arrives to perform the work you called for, will as previously stated, usually arrive in an older unmarked vehicle. They use cheap vehicles in case they are confiscated. Sometimes with out of state tags. The person will usually be dressed in street clothes and will not have on a uniform or clothing with any company name or logo.
If you get wise to their scam during or after the encounter and refuse to pay, they will immediately resort to aggressive intimidation tactics including, threatening to call police, law suit, and even physical violence. These criminals love to prey upon the elderly and women especially, because they know they have a much higher success rate at getting the exorbitant fees they charge.
To the surprise of many of the scammer’s victims, these companies are many times based in other states across the country. They normally hire an unskilled worker in each area they operate to carry out the scam on their unwary prey.
In the early days of the locksmith scammer trend, these companies originally began by taking out ads in local phone books using toll free numbers. They quickly made the transition over to acquiring phone numbers with local area codes in an effort to give the appearance of being a legitimate, local company. We know that nothing could be further from the truth. They will often list fictitious addresses in their ads in an attempt to portray a note of legitimacy.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
Any person offering what is defined by North Carolina statute as a locksmith service in NC must maintain a valid North Carolina locksmith license issued exclusively through the North Carolina Locksmith Licensing Board. An out of state company cannot operate in NC without a NC issued locksmith license. There are no reciprocal license agreements between NC and any other state. No other state’s locksmith license is recognized by NC.
Any company providing locksmith services in North Carolina is REQUIRED to display their NC license number or numbers in or on ANY form of advertising they use. If you see an ad in the phone book, online, on their service vehicle, etc., and it does not display a legitimate NC license number, this should be red flag number one.
Ask for the North Carolina Locksmith License number of the person that will be performing the service. Licenses are issued to individuals, not companies. Tell the person on the phone that you intend to verify their license number with the North Carolina Locksmith Licensing Board. If they are a legitimate locksmith company, they should welcome such scrutiny.
At that point, the next sound you may hear could be a dial tone, but often the scammers will tell you that they have applied for their license and it’s in process and/or they will tell you they have “paperwork” or a temporary license document while they wait for the permanent license. Or they may tell you the service they offer is not actually classified as a “locksmith service”, therefore they are exempt from license requirements. These are all bogus claims. Hang up the phone and immediately report them to the North Carolina Locksmith Licensing Board at the link above.
Beware of the $19.95 in-your-face advertising that pops up at the top of your search results or phone books. I promise you that NO licensed locksmith with any sort of experience charges that little to come unlock your car or house. Do not let yourself be lured in by the scammer’s low price claims. This is one decision you will regret.
If you are calling to have your house or car opened, ask for the total price, not just the service call or emergency service fee. If the person on the phone is not able to quote you a price for the service or at least call you back with one, beware!
At Barker’s Lock Service in Apex, NC, we have set rates for our services. The price we quote is the price you pay. There aren’t any additional fees for services we perform tacked onto the bill after the job is completed. Typically we can quote your job over the phone. As the owner of Barker’s Lock Service, I have over 35 years of automotive locksmith experience here in the Raleigh – Central North Carolina area. I can most often determine the course of action that should be taken and quote a price over the phone after a short question and answer session with you, the customer.
Licensed locksmiths in NC are required to produce a valid NC locksmith license when requested by the customer. I encourage everyone that hires a locksmith to do exactly that upon arrival and before any work is commenced. The person on the phone can say anything they want but the person performing the work must show you their valid license upon your request, without any excuses. If they can’t produce their license or they resist your request, send them packing and PLEASE alert the NC Locksmith Licensing Board immediately. Being proactive may prevent many other people from being ripped off by these criminals in the future!
It is up to each individual consumer to protect themselves against becoming a victim. You do that by educating yourself, staying alert, watching for the warning signs, and being proactive. Do not count on any law to protect you. We have more laws on our books than we can count. Without enforcement they are useless. The fact is that unfortunately, this type of crime is generally not considered to be high priority or worthy of pursuit by our justice system. That’s why it is especially important for YOU to take an active role in protecting yourself and others against this scum.
Barker’s Lock Service specializes in vehicle locksmith services exclusively, but we network with other legitimate locksmith companies in North Carolina, across America, and even in other countries. If you require services for the other facets of our trade, such as residential, commercial, or safe & vault work, please feel free to call and let us make a recommendation for another fine locksmith that provides the type of service you need, or one that is near your location.
Visit these video links for examples of these criminals in action. Be aware that some of the reporters in these videos are wrongfully referring to these criminals as locksmiths, which as a legitimate locksmith, I find extremely offensive. But I feel it’s more important for you to see for yourselves what these sub-humans are capable of, the warning indicators, and how they operate.
Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself! And remember, if you think hiring a professional locksmith is expensive, try hiring an amateur one!
Jay Barker, CAL