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Of all the schemes in scAm-merica, THIS one has to be probably one of the most ingenious. It is a scam that preys upon people in helpless situations which are often real emergencies. The scam I am talking about is run by an unknown, but obviously organized band of thieves, who use entirely legitimate means of advertising to steer "customers" – who subsequently become victims – to their network of locksmith thievery. One of the worst offenders according to the Better Business Bureau is "Dependable Locksmith".
This article was prompted by a lengthy telephone conversation with one of MY customers who told me about these two interesting web sites: (www.SOPL.us and www.locksmithripoffs.com). Having a reputation for busting scammers1, I decided THIS one would be fun to bust wide-open.
This scam is one of those things that in order to avoid, you have to be prepared for.... it's like being prepared for a flood, another revolution, or December 21, 2012.... if you're not prepared; if you don't have an inflatable raft, a month's supply of food, potable water, and the weapons to defend yourself against the looters who didn't see it coming.... well, when the time comes, you're just gonna' be SOL.
What this article will do is to give you a bit of education that you will hopefully file away in the back of the brainpan, ready for retrieval when you need it.
First of all, let me give you the background on the scam, so you know how it works, and so that you will believe what I will tell you.
When the "locksmith" arrives, he is usually unskilled in the trade, and often performs a "destructive entry" – such as drilling out the lock assembly and replacing it, rather than "picking" the lock as a trained and skilled locksmith will do. Often, the thief will have a duplicate of the key for the lock, and will "case the joint" in order to burglarize it later. Because he has DESTROYED the original lock, you now will be billed for the new lock and the labor to install it – and if you were given a quote over the phone, the final price will be much more than you were quoted, and the guy will have a "spare" key to your home, business, or car, and if there is anything there worth stealing, you can bet it will be gone before long if you don't change the lock AGAIN after he leaves.
Besides making you vulnerable to thieves who will rip you off for the "work" they do, and who will probably return later to finish ripping off the REST of your valuables, this ORGANIZED CRIME RING has had a devastating impact on LEGITIMATE local locksmith businesses by virtue of the fact that unwitting customers are being duped into doing business with thieves.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
Tom and I are currently in the brainstorming stages of providing the consumer with complete information about locksmiths who are called in emergency situations. Until that service becomes available, the following steps should help you to avoid the ripoff artists.
1. KNOW WHO YOU ARE DEALING WITH – Take the time to get to know your local locksmith where you live, and where you work. Walk into their business and ask for a business card3. Put their phone number in your cell phone so you have their number in case you need it. This will avoid Google searches in emergencies and the high probability of dealing with a scam artist when you don't have the time to check who it is you are doing business with. It is a good idea to record your phone conversation. Also, many LOCAL phone numbers are forwarded to out-of-state "dispatchers" who will PRETEND to be local businesses. A good way to see if you are dealing with a LOCAL business is to claim "we have a bad connection" and have them call you back. An illegitimate "business" will NOT call back, or if they DO, the caller ID will reveal a different phone number or an out-of-state exchange (first three numbers). If that happens you know you've just detected a thief who would rip you off.
2. RECORD INFORMATION – When the locksmith arrives, get his name, ask for his driver's license to verify it, and take his photo and a photo of his vehicle and license plate with your cell phone. If he cannot produce a State ID or objects to having photos taken, it is a RED FLAG that he is not who he says he is. If your cell phone is capable of recording audio (check for free apps that do this), record your conversation and then ask him to leave immediately. If he gives you an argument, call the police.
3. RESTRICT ACCESS – NEVER allow the person to use your bathroom2, or go into your premises for ANY reason. If he has to take a piss, let him go in the bushes or at the nearest gas station.
4. BE AWARE OF ASSHOLES – If the guy says that he cannot open the lock and has to "drill it out" – unless the lock is a magnetic tumbler or other hi-tech lock that's "pick-proof", he's probably not a REAL locksmith. Any Asshole can drill out a tumbler with a carbide bit and a cordless drill.
5. MAKE SURE A NEW LOCK IS REALLY NEW – If the lock MUST be replaced, make sure the guy brings a lock assembly that is NEW, and is in an unbroken, sealed plastic blister-pack. Ask to see it BEFORE he removes it from the packaging. If the package has been opened or damaged in any way, it is probably because the keys have been removed and copied.
6. COVER VEHICLE'S VIN NUMBER – All cars have a metal tag on the driver's side – on the dashboard and visible through the windshield (usually near the car's inspection sticker). If your vehicle has an OnStar™ system, all a potential thief has to do is have your name and a bit of personal information about you, along with the vehicle's VIN number, and he can call the service, claim that he locked himself out of the car, and have them send a satellite signal to your vehicle to unlock the doors. Starting the vehicle and driving off is then child's play.
7. USE PayPal™ – Pay with a PayPal™ credit or debit card. If you don't have a PayPal™ account, See instructions on how to set one up. PayPal™ will protect you better than any other credit or debit card, and allows you to file a product or services complaint online. The vendor's funds will be immediately frozen until the dispute is settled, and if the person you paid is a scammer, the LAST thing they want is PayPal™ in the mix.
8. GET A RECEIPT – ALWAYS get a receipt, and check it to make sure that the amount on the receipt is what you paid him.
9. REPORT THIEVES TO POLICE – If despite all of this, you get scammed, don't hesitate to call the police. Remember, any photographs you take and conversations you record are all admissible as evidence in court. And although the owner of Ripoff Report is a thief himself it would probably be a good idea to write up your complaint on RipoffReport.com. If enough people do this, these scammers will eventually become the victims of extortion – which is what RipoffReport.com is all about.
Locksmith thievery is rampant. It is a NATION-WIDE scam. Just because you see a full-page ad in the phone book, or the business comes up first in the Search engine listings, or you get the number from a 4-1-1 directory, does NOT mean it is a legitimate business. Caveat Emptor.4
As far as car and house keys go, you should keep a spare key in your wallet or purse. You
are LESS likely to leave your purse or wallet in your car than you are to forget
the keys in the ignition.
www.Net4TruthUSA.com/dvaig-01-00290-22.htm et. al.
2 A thief can gather personal information from prescription bottles in your medicine cabinet or papers lying around, and potentially steal your identity.
3. It is important that you do NOT get the number from a Google search or a phone book. Walk into the business, talk with the owner, and get a PHYSICAL paper business card.
4. Caveat Emptor (Latin) "Let the buyer beware"
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