We've all been there. You've locked yourself out of your house. Now you need a locksmith.
"Over the phone they would be quoted a price of around $50 then after the locksmith showed up they would get a story about how they had a unique lock or more difficult," explained U.S. Postal Inspector Dan Taylor.
Once the homeowner was let back in, they would be told the price would be several hundred dollars.
This price gauging scheme is common. In a particular case, suspects created bogus companies in the same city and advertised in the Yellow Pages.
"For instance if there were 30 locksmiths in one area, they would make sure to have 15 mentioned in those yellow pages - this insured the odds that one of the suspects companies would be contacted," explained Taylor.
Postal inspectors started following up on hundreds of consumer complaints in dozens of different cities.
"Nationwide there were thousands of victims and by following the money… we found the scammers made millions and millions of dollars," said Taylor.
Taylor offers advice on how you can protect yourself if you need a locksmith.
"Anytime, you are quoted something - even in an emergency service or not - you want to get that quote in writing. Because once that service is been done, you are vulnerable to price gauging," he said.
Another important piece of advice is to report the crime, even if it doesn't feel like you lost a lot of money.
"Whether it is BBB, local police, postal inspectors.. Postal inspectors draw upon many different sources in order to build cases to learn how many victims there are...," said Taylor. "However, if you don't report it - we have no way of knowing you are a victim in one of our cases."
According to a recent AARP article, locksmith scams are on the rise. The organization recommends you find a reputable locksmith before you need one. That way if you are in a desperate situation, you have someone you can call without the fear of being scammed.
AARP also advices you to:
- Avoid a company that answers the phone with a generic phrase such as "Locksmith Services."
- Be wary of locksmiths who arrive in unmarked vehicles.
- Get a written estimate on company letterhead and get a receipt after you pay.
- AARP recommends you find another locksmith if you're told the lock has to be drilled or replaced because a legitimate locksmith can unlock almost any door.
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