Fighting the Scammer 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.

Today we hear about the scammers and their scams on a daily basis. What were the scams you heard about in the old days? Were there any?
Just as I’m insulted by what these guys are doing to a professional field like ours, you didn’t have it back then. If you were a locksmith you were a professional. Not only aren’t these guys locksmiths, they are  not even U.S. citizens.
Since the states have done nothing, ALOA has finally gotten the federal people involved since all of the phone banks are out of state from the ones they operate in. Now they’re going after them for interstate crimes.
You know what New Jersey’s done in the last seven years, absolutely nothing! They passed Senate action 1207; before you sell a car owned by the state you must have the ignition and door locks changed. Here’s a good one. Action #3558, provides that only locksmiths or the dealer may program transponder keys. I could take you around the corner to Home Depot where they do transponder keys. (Jim’s cell phone rings; it’s his locksmith brother in Georgia).

Is Georgia having the same problem with the scammers?
Across the whole country. It started out west and moved across to Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, all your major cities. When it was allowed to happen, then it spread all over. Back to this law about transponder keys, I could take you to the hardware store around the corner and get it done, so what good is the law? We have to go through all the expense and time to have our license visible.
In my phone book ad I spent $10,000 on full page color ads that say “Don’t be ripped off by phony locksmiths.” We’re the only ones who can put that in our ad because we’re the only ones here.

Why are locksmiths the target of the scammers?
It’s happening because the public is uninformed; they get in trouble and need help quickly.  It’s easy pickings. They open a car and they’re gone. There’s nothing on the trucks, no names, no receipts. Sometimes it’s just a car they’re in.
A few years ago a doctor customer who was using us for a long time needed us and didn’t have her rolodex so she called information for A1. She got a guy who had her thinking he was us. She asked for Tony and they said Tony had a medical problem. When they didn’t show up, she found our number and called us asking why we weren’t there yet and of course we had no idea what she was talking about. This guy said he was us, flat-out lied about everything. I called who she called and asked what they were doing using my name. She tells me that the boss says they’re under 80 different names and I just assumed that was us she was asking for.
(Steve Kaufman:) Sometimes it’s a taxi. I heard one about an older woman who called a locksmith on a Sunday afternoon from Cherry Hill, N.J. The latch on what turned out to be a Kwikset entry knob was malfunctioning and the guy she called said he’d be there in three hours. Three hours later he showed up in a taxi cab with NY license plates. He got out with a drill and a tool box and then explained he didn’t have the part needed. He still asked her for $300 for coming and she paid it! When asked why she paid, she explained she was intimidated, scared of the guy.

This seems to be a tough battle for the locksmith community. How do we win here?
When I first started years ago I couldn’t get in using A1 Lock. At the time they had principles and they wouldn’t put me ahead of everyone else just because I was A1. It took 11 weeks to put together the all the right documents proving this was a family business started down in Georgia. That was in the early 70s. There were no laws but the phone book people had principles. Now it’s take the money and run.

My understanding is that there’s an enormous amount of money being spent by the scammers with the phone books. Does that make it difficult to stop?
You can’t pick up a book anywhere without them in it. One of the things I like to say in my ads is that we’re “Locally owned and operated.” Now the scammers are saying it in their ads; “Locally owned and operated service within 15 minutes, $29.00.” They use an 800 number that I called and was referred to a number in Detroit, Mich.

Are you required to take classes to keep your license even though you’re such an established business?
Early on we attended many ALOA conventions and received all kinds of certifications. We did it to update our knowledge about products, to become better locksmiths. When licensing began in New Jersey, we didn’t have to, we were grandfathered in. Then we started getting calls from a salesperson for one of the schools that have the CEU classes. I asked what he was going to teach me, impressioning, key identification, and key machines? I told him I’ve been doing this for 60 years and he told me he was just a salesman selling the class and that it would be a shame if I let all these years be worthless by not renewing my license.

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