Locksmith scammers have become a major pain to the unsuspecting public and the locksmith community. Jim Parker, president of A-1 Safe and Lock in Trenton, N.J., had spoken with Gale Johnson after seeing one of Gale’s articles on that subject. I sat down with Jim in his shop on Sept. 15 to ask his opinion on the scammers and running a successful locksmith business. Following are the Ledger’s questions and Parker’s answers.
How did you and Gale begin talking about the scamming that’s going on?
A couple of years ago Verizon took my name out of the book! Instead of me, they had A1 Locksmith. We’re A1 Safe & Lock. All of a sudden I don’t even have a listing in the book!
So who is A1 Locksmith?
They’re scam artists. When the guy from Verizon showed up to do my ad, I told him I’m not taking an ad out because he’s my competitor. Who the heck is this A1 Locksmith? I went down to check the address they showed and it was a big Verizon building.
You’d think it would get the phone company’s attention when someone uses their address, wouldn’t you? I heard that happened in Missouri; they used an AT&T address.
The Yellow Pages were sued and there’s an injunction against AT&T and they had to shut off the cell phones of the scam artists.
Close to here, I could show you 52 addresses that are being used, medical centers, shopping centers, clothing stores within seven miles of my shop. There’s a guy here a mile away who calls himself Highway 73 locksmith. I call him and ask for Highway 73 locksmith and he tells me they’re now called Bob’s Locksmith. I go down there and knock on the door and they tell me it’s a bakery shop. They’ve got two unmarked white vans and a car with sheets across the glass so you can’t see inside and he hollers out the window that it’s a bakery. They’re working out of a closed building and probably sleeping on the floors.
What was the response from the phone book people when you first brought it up?
At first I figured it was just a fluke; the phone guy tells me he’s never heard of such a thing. He goes down there and tells me something’s funny because there are three different companies using the same number for A1 Locksmith. He actually told me he had no idea what was going on. I told him he couldn’t be in this business and not know about it. All he cared about was his commission. It’s estimated that people are being ripped off for more than $400 million a year!
What kind of things are going on? How are people being taken advantage of?
We have a good customer who’s been using us for almost 30 years. One day she comes into the shop crying. She’s a senior citizen who needed her Medeco lock rekeyed and told me a man came out and charged her $300 to change one cylinder. On the phone he told her $35 and then said it was high security and would be much more. For $300 he gave her one key. She needed three more keys and he told her that would be another $300.
Another one I heard about is the Air Jack for the windows on car lockouts. They tell people it’s so expensive because the Air Jack has to be replaced every two weeks for $400.
A guy in New York charged someone $800 to open a lock on a glass door. He told the customer it was special high security and he drilled it; they don’t pick anything. It’s a Kwikset and they tell him it’s high security.
A TV station here got someone on film drilling out Kwikset locks after claiming they were high security. It turned out the door wasn’t even locked. He drilled out the locks and never tried the door!
How long have you been working as a locksmith?
All my life. I’ll be 66; it’s been a family business for five generations. Of my five brothers, four of them are locksmiths. We have a shop down in Georgia. Many of my grandkids and nephews are locksmiths.
A successful, established New Jersey locksmith finds that his competition is not another local businessman, but an out-of-state phone bank using a name too close for comfort to his company’s name.