Locksmith Scams

The “$15 Locksmith” scam.

The figure on your right shows a typical page that comes up on Google when someone has searched for ‘Locksmith Denver’. Do you see all the ads that state “Locksmith $15’ and “15 Denver Locksmith”? The well known phrase, “If it is too good to be true – it probably is” applies here. Do you really think a locksmith is going to come to you and do whatever you need done for $15? Off course not...

These ads are ALL scams. Not some of them, all of them. This is the biggest and longest known locksmith scam in existence. It is in every major city in the United States. The dollar amount is irrelevant. It could be $15, $17, $20, $25. It just doesn’t matter. That ADVERTISED amount is a different amount in every city. What DOES matter, is that you can be sure that you WON’T be paying this amount. This amount is designed just to get you to call. Once you call, they own you.

Finding a locksmith

It works like this:

You have locked your keys in your car. You are frustrated. Who wouldn’t be? You need a locksmith NOW. You search on Google. A multitude of choices come up (see figure A). You call one of the ‘$15 locksmiths’. Now the scam begins...

It’s basically a bait-and-switch (click here for definition) technique, only its legal. A typical conversation sounds like this:

  • Locksmith Company “Locksmith. How can I help you?”
  • You “I just locked my keys in the car and I need a locksmith to come out and get me back in”
  • Locksmith Company “Sure. We would be glad to help. What is your address?”
  • You “ Before I give you the address, how much will this cost me?”
  • Locksmith Company “$15 plus labor.”
  • You “How much is labor?”
  • Locksmith Company “$25 and up for a typical car”
  • You “Ok that’s fine. My address is...”

You have just been ripped off, and you don’t even know it. By the time your locksmith technician arrives, he/she will charge you as much as he/she can get. The typical price is $149. Not the $40 you think you will pay. You are now angry and frustrated. You have waited a long time (despite the fact that the rep quoted you only about a 20 minute wait time) and you were expecting to pay about $40. More often than not you will pay what they ask. You can’t wait any longer to go through this whole process again. You just want to get in your car, go on your way, and put this whole bad event behind you. Your frustration and eagerness is what all of these companies count on. That is the essence of this scam. And it works. You WILL PAY. It's very simple, if this scam did not work, it would not still be going on in every major city, in the United States for the past 40 years. Don't be the next victim.

Want to know the crazy part of this whole scenario? They have done nothing wrong. Yep. Not legally speaking anyway. They stated "...plus labor". They told you the minimum price that it would be. Once they arrived, they didn’t "force" you to pay, did they? You agreed to the "final" price. Its not like they opened the car, then changed the price. It’s all nice and legal. It's is just not ethical.

The above conversation isn’t even the worst of the worst. Some upper echelon scam companies (the really heartless ones), don’t even quote the “...plus labor” part. They just say “$15 dollars”. Some companies won't even quote that! If you don’t ask, they don’t volunteer any info on their services – certainly not their scam pricing. They just ask for your address and then they send someone to you. A real locksmith company gives an exact price (all inclusive) whether a client asks them for one or not. It's just good, ethical business practice.

How to protect yourself from this scam: Simple. Ask for the total price over the phone. Almost all those “$15 Scam companies” will state that a quote over the phone is not ‘their policy’. Their excuses for not giving you an exact price over the phone are as follows:

  • That every job is different and a technician is better ‘qualified’ to give an exact price.
  • That they are just the phone operator and that they don’t have that exact pricing information.
  • The technician has to see the lock first (car, home or business) because every one is different.
  • They need to send a technician out so that the price can be ‘accurate’.
  • The "evaluation" is free.

REMEMBER THIS RULE: If they cannot quote an exact price over the phone, then just hang up and call someone else. You are dealing with a scam company. This will be true, 100% of the time.

The "Re-keying Scam"

Once again this scam is also predicated on not giving an exact price over the phone. Rekeying typically costs between $12 and $30 per key hole/cylinder. Most locks have 1 key hole. Some locks are, in-fact, double sided (2 key holes) and will count as two locks. Some companies have a service call/trip charge and possibly a minimum charge for coming out. All of these pricing structures are acceptable as long as you know the total up front.

For example: One locksmith company we checked out quoted “A $39 service call plus $15 per cylinder to rekey. Our minimum is $65 to do a rekeying job”. This is a completely ethical quote. If you have 4 basic locks, you know UP FRONT, that the price will be $99 for the whole job. If you have just one basic lock, the price to come out to you and rekey it will be $65 and not $54, because they have a minimum. Easy. Basic.

If you do not ask for a price up front, from one of the scam companies - they will trick you. They will cheat you. They quote "$15 to come out plus labor and labor starts at about $10 for a basic lock". Once they get to you, your "basic" lock will turn out to be a ‘high security’ (this is one of their favorite "excuse phrases") lock. Their original price will quadruple or worse.

Other Re-keying Scams

  1. They charge you for the new pins along with all the other charges. Replacing the ‘pins’ is what a rekeying job is. It's like buying a car from a dealer and the dealer charging extra for the steering wheel and the windows. It is always included. It's a given!
  2. The technician gives a different price depending on how many pins are in the lock. Almost every basic lock has five pins. Every locksmith knows this. This is basic common knowledge. They also know that the general public does not know this. They count on this fact. The unscrupulous tech tells you that he can’t "see" how many pins there are in the lock and will have to open it first. He tells you that if it has 4 pins, the charge will be $10 to rekey it (sounds cheap, right?). If the lock has 5 pins it will be $60, and if it has 6 or more it will be $149. At this point you, subconsciously, are praying that it doesn’t have 6 or more. The technician then takes the lock off the door, takes it apart, and states, “Oh, thank goodness, this lock is only a 5 pin lock. You just saved a bunch of money!” You are so glad it wasn’t a 6 or 7 pin lock that you are glad to pay ‘just $60’ plus all the ‘other’ fees. You even thank him for the privilege.
  3. The lock(s) are broken and/or the lock has to be repaired first. Nope. Your lock is not broken. It just isn’t. If it worked before they got there – it still works now. Period. Two explanations - They broke the lock on purpose or they just plain lied to get more money out of you. That’s it.

The Lockout Drilling Scam

A classic in the arsenal of scam locksmith companies: You have locked yourself out of your home or business. It’s a horrible feeling. We have all been there. The "$15 locksmith" ad that you called promises you a low price to get you back inside your residence or office. When the locksmith arrives, he sticks to the original ‘lowball’ quote that you were promised. They start their lock picking procedure. After 5 minutes they announce that there is a problem. “You have an un-pickable lock”, they announce. They site one or more reasons for this:

  1. The lock is "high-security".
  2. It is an unconventional lock.
  3. It is an overseas lock and they don’t recognize it.
  4. It has been previously rekeyed to be "un-pickable".
  5. One of the pins is "stuck".
Finding a locksmith

They then pretend to walk away, knowing that you will say, "What am I supposed to do now?” They then start to give you the only "options" available to you. Telling you that the lock might be able to be drilled or pulled open. Of course, the lock will be useless to you at that point (they know this). The technician will then say something like, “I MAY be able to drill it and replace it. I think I have a few 'extra' ones in my car. Unfortunately we are talking much more money for this service...”

You're screwed. What else can you do? You are locked out. You need back in! So....you pay. $149-$349 is what they typically ask for. This practice (unlike some of the other scams) is completely illegal, not to mention unethical and immoral. It is hard for the authorities to prove this. So this scam continues to this day.

The truth about picking a lock: Picking a residential or commercial lock requires more skill than opening a car door. It requires training and experience. Some locks may be harder to pick than others. Some locks cannot be picked, but it is rare. For example a QUICKSET SMARTKEY ™ deadbolt, cannot be picked. It must be drilled.

How can you protect yourself? Simple. Get a price over the phone. A reputable locksmith company will give you a flat price to pick any lock. If they charge to drill and/or replace a lock – they will give you an upfront price for that too. Most real locksmith companies will not even charge extra to drill and replace a lock (as long as the lock is a standard one). They don’t charge for this because they feel that it is not your fault that the lock is "hard to pick".

A side note to this scam: The really bad scam companies, don’t even train a technician to pick a lock. They literally instruct them to never pick a lock. Instead, they tell their tech to always "drill and replace" or they will be fired. This is, unfortunately, a fact. The company implements this policy for two main reasons. Number one: The company makes up to 5 times the profit from selling new locks versus just picking an old one. And number two: They save money because they don’t have to hire real locksmiths. They can literally hire anyone off the street because they don’t have to teach or actually train the technician any kind of real skills. They can hire anyone and have them working within hours of filling out the application. Their gain, and definitely, your loss...