Fighting Scammer Locksmiths

Jan. 27, 2011

On January 13th at 12:45 p.m. I received a text message from my 23-year-old son that read like this: “Does it make any sense in the world for a locksmith to charge $500 to let a girl who lost her keys back into her apartment?”

My response: No

My son: This is a quote from our friend who lost her keys, “The service call was $79 and the three locks were $450. He gave me a $29 ‘break’ but said the first two locks were pick-proof.”

My response: Did she ask for pick proof locks and why were they replaced?

My son: I think he had to just replace everything to get her inside her place.

When we finally spoke, I asked him to get me the name of the locksmith. Since I’ve been a sales rep in the industry for 18 years, chances of me knowing the locksmith were pretty good. He finally let me know he was in Boston and not Philadelphia/NJ where we live. At this point I told him to just get me the number his friend called to get the locksmith there. I explained that it sounded quite extreme even if she had high security locks on the door. I was thinking maybe she had Medeco cylinders that he had to drill to get her in and then had to replace them; for that money I was sure there was hardware involved.

I called the number and reached a woman who let me know she was just answering the phones for this company. I couldn’t visit them because it was only an answering service. I’ve been hearing about and occasionally witnessing the locksmith scams we’re all familiar with by now. I let her know that I needed to hear back from someone very soon or my next article in the Locksmith Ledger was going to be about them.

Meanwhile I finally got to speak directly with Holly, the young victim, to hear exactly what happened. She lives in a four-unit apartment building. She lost her keys and was locked out but had a spare set inside. At 9:30 a.m., she called a locksmith to find out how much it would cost and how fast he could get there. She was told there would be a $79 service charge with nothing else discussed on the phone.

The building had a front door, a vestibule door and then her apartment door. Each opening had one lock that needed to be bypassed. The apartment door had a knob lock and the other two had Schlage deadbolts, shown in the photos.

The locksmith proceeded to pick the first deadbolt. While struggling a bit, he explained to Holly that this was a high security lock that typically couldn’t be picked but fortunately for her, he was familiar with a special technique. Eventually he did manage to pick open all three locks shown; I’m told it took less than a half hour.

I called to introduce myself and then proceeded to ask for an explanation of the $500 bill. He let me know he never made it to the job because he got a flat tire and another guy made it there. He would speak with him, find out what happened and call me back. At this point he let me know that he enjoyed reading my articles; I replied that I was flattered but that if this matter wasn’t resolved in a timely and fair way, my next article would be about his company!

A little while later he called me and had the locksmith who was responsible for this job on the line with us. I asked him to plese recount what happened so I could properly explain it to the girl who at this point felt that she was robbed. He went on to explain that they were a reputable company whose only concern was that their customers were happy.

His side of the story wasn’t all that different from Holly’s. To be fair to Moe, (not his real name) this call came shortly after a horrible winter storm and he did get there in place of Larry (not real) whose vehicle suffered a flat tire.

He began by asking, “Have you ever tried to pick a Schlage B160?”  It doesn’t happen often but I was speechless for a short time. I couldn’t believe this question was coming from a guy who claimed to be a journeyman locksmith and who, by the way, didn’t appear to fit the typical profile many of us have grown accustomed to associating with scam locksmiths.

Since I’m a full time outside sales rep employed by IDN Hardware, I don’t have many opportunities to pick open locks but I did make my living doing so for most of the 1980s and of course had to learn to pick and manipulate many types of locks. If I were called to do a lockout and saw a B160, I was happy! Moe went on to describe how tough these locks were because of the special mushroom pins they used. I have a tough time taking a locksmith who describes a B160 as high security seriously.

I let Moe and Larry know that they were so much higher than any legitimate locksmith that it wasn’t funny. When I made mention of the typical scam locksmith Moe was actually insulted! He told me he spends lots of time fixing what scammers do out there and that he greatly resented being mentioned in the same breath as them. My response was, “Sorry but a $500 charge for what you did for this girl absolutely qualifies you as a scammer.” They finally agreed to reduce the ‘per cylinder’ charge from $150 to $100 and refund Holly the difference, $161.

I called a few locksmith customers who I know to be very fair and reputable and after painting the scenario. Asking them to give me their highest, most extreme estimate for this job at 11 a.m., I got anywhere from $125 to $270. Realizing there was still lots of room before this transaction could be considered fair, I called them back to negotiate some more. The best they could (would) do was a $200 refund. I realized I was lucky to get them to do anything at all and said OK.

Later that evening, Holly left a phone message telling me that someone just dropped off $200 to her and that she was extremely happy and appreciative of my efforts. We all know that if I was just some guy calling to complain, they never would have considered refunding a dime, especially considering I was calling from several hundred miles away. The leverage here was my association with the Locksmith Ledger and the threat of an article being written using the company’s real name as well as that of the Two Stooges. Sorry guys, but you did scam this young lady as well as anyone else you did this to and the reputation of the everyday, hardworking and fair locksmith is suffering because of folks like you.