Locksmith scam

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The locksmith scam is a scam involving fake business listings for cheap locksmith services that, once called out, overcharge the customer. The scam targets people who call a locksmith out of desperation, usually because of being locked out of their car or premises.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] Locksmith scams have been reported in the U.S.,[8][9][3][10][11] the U.K.,[12][13] and New Zealand.[14][15][16]

The scams work by flooding business-finding services with a multitude of faux business listings. All of the phone numbers of these listings eventually link back to a single operation, usually without a legitimate address or license. The descriptions will be similar to legitimate locksmiths, accompanied by similarly misleading advertising, and usually quoting an unusually low price. The person who turns up may perform shoddy work and then overcharge for the service and parts. Since the customer never knows the real business or people involved, at best they can ask for a single phony listing to be removed - a process that takes time and does not negatively impact the scammer much, as they can simply create more fake listings.

Side-effects of the scam include damage to legitimate locksmiths who lose business and tend to get angry calls from people believing them to be responsible.[17][18] Google Maps has been particularly vulnerable to this operation in the 2010s. It began requiring people advertising locksmith services in the US or Canada to complete its "Advanced Verification" process as of 2018,[19] but does not do so in other markets.


Lead generation[edit]

Such scams rely on lead generation, designed to confuse potential customers into believing that the scammer is a legitimate, but low-priced, locksmith:[4][20][6]

Lead conversion[edit]

The scams then use a "conversion funnel", in which the mark is bluntly persuaded to part with money:

  • Using vehicles that have no signage[35][34][14][36][3][17] or only magnetic stick-on signage,[6] to reduce accountability.
  • Using staff lacking identification[36][17] or uniforms,[35][6] again to reduce accountability.
  • Disinterest in the customer's right to access the vehicle or building to which the call-out relates; for example, failing to ask the customer for ID or proof of ownership.[3]
  • Refusing to provide a written estimate,[34][14] also to reduce accountability.
  • Insisting upon the use of destructive rather than non-destructive entry, typically by destroying the original lock and necessitating the purchase of a replacement lock.[22][5]
  • Charging excessive prices, even if low prices were advertised or quoted by the call centre (i.e. bait-and-switch).[29][1][2][36][4][20][5][7][14][27]
  • Insisting upon payment by cash[2][34][36][4] or debit card[6] (because if paid by credit card, the charges are potentially reversible).[27]

Legal action[edit]

Locksmiths and other observers have noted that search engine companies make substantial income from paid-for listings, regardless of whether the listings are legitimate or spam.[37][38][30][25] Writing in 2016, Cory Doctorow claimed that "Nearly every locksmith that appears on Google Maps is a fake business that redirects to a call center ... that dispatches a scammy, distant, barely trained locksmith who'll come and charge you 5-10 times more than you were quoted."[32]

In the U.S. in 2005, a Bronx-based company was sued by the Chicago Department of Consumer services for alleged consumer fraud.[29]

In the U.S. in 2009, three alleged locksmith scammers were unsuccessfully prosecuted in St. Louis.[4]

In the U.K. in 2010, a locksmith scammer was successfully prosecuted.[39]

In the U.S. in 2014, a locksmith based in Virginia sued Google, Yellowbook (Hibu), and Ziplocal, under numerous laws, requesting that those companies "remove fraudulent locksmith listings from their search results".[37][40][41] This, too, was unsuccessful, due to the companies' immunity under the Communications Decency Act.[4]

In the U.S. in 2017–2018, a group of 14 locksmiths filed a lawsuit against Google, Yahoo, and Bing, alleging that these search engines allowed spam listings to drown out legitimate, organic search results.[42] This class action was dismissed by the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC in 2019.

In Eastwood v. Atlas Locksmith Solutions, et al., Atlas disclosed that it subscribed to 115 telephone numbers in the Phoenix Metropolitan Market, assigned each of those numbers to an address where Atlas had no location or legitimate business interest, then multiplied those phone number/address combinations by 10 different company names on a spreadsheet causing Veritel (a now defunct telephone company run by Clay Van Doren)[43] to publish 1,150 separate and distinct fraudulent telephone listings[44] all promulgated and distributed to consumers by Google, Yahoo, and distributed on a wholesale basis by information brokers including Acxiom and others.[45]

Google says that it has removed billions of advertisements that violated its policies, and claims to have improved its verification systems to combat listings fraud.[46][47] However, although Google now requires people advertising locksmith services in the US or Canada to complete its "Advanced Verification" process,[19] it does not do so in other markets.[48] Also, Google has reportedly resisted removing fraudulent listings.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Star, Shelley Shelton Arizona Daily. "Locksmith scam may have hit Tucson".
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Finding a Locksmith". 9 August 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Associated Locksmiths of America". Associated Locksmiths of America. 2014. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Segal, David (30 January 2016). "Fake Online Locksmiths May Be Out to Pick Your Pocket, Too". The New York Times.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Better Business Bureau tips on how to avoid the "Locksmith Scam"". 28 June 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "How to avoid the fake online locksmith scam".
  7. ^ a b c Ducey, Joe (7 April 2017). "Will your locksmith scam you?".
  8. ^ Kirchheimer, Sid. "Follow Tips to Avoid Locksmiths Scams – Fraudulent Businesses".
  9. ^ "Denver locksmith caught running 'bait & switch' scam … again". 14 February 2013.
  10. ^ Mile High Locksmith Team (25 February 2012). "Today show MSNBC news locksmith SCAM" – via YouTube.
  11. ^ a b Andrews Lock And Key (9 August 2015). ""BEWARE" ABC News "The Lookout, Locksmiths". Avoid Locksmith Scams Phoenix and Mesa AZ" – via YouTube.
  12. ^ a b "Exposing Scam Locksmiths - Locksmith News". www.locksmiths.co.uk. Master Locksmiths Association. 16 August 2012.
  13. ^ a b "Scammers Using Legitimate Locksmith Company Names - Locksmith Blog". www.locksmiths.co.uk. Master Locksmiths Association. 17 February 2014.
  14. ^ a b c d e "'Rip-off' locksmiths operating in Auckland". Newshub. 7 July 2017.
  15. ^ "Aucklanders urged to watch out for 'fastest' locksmiths who leave trail of bad locks and big bills" – via TVNZ.
  16. ^ "MLAA's "Beware of Locksmith Scammers" Campaign - MLAA". 12 December 2017.
  17. ^ a b c d e f "Is Your Locksmith Ripping You Off?". Money. Archived from the original on May 8, 2021.
  18. ^ a b c Burr, Bill (26 October 2017). "Mt. Pleasant locksmith says possible scam is hurting business, costing customers".
  19. ^ a b Tung, Liam. "Google to tech-support scammers: We're about to get even tougher on your ads - ZDNet". ZDNet.
  20. ^ a b c "4 Things We Learned About Fake Locksmith Scammers Lurking Online". 1 February 2016.
  21. ^ a b "Suspect in locksmith scam surrenders".
  22. ^ a b c d Segal, David (9 July 2011). "Lead Generation Sites Pose Challenge to Google - The Haggler". The New York Times.
  23. ^ "When You Call A Locksmith, Will A Con Man Answer?". NPR.org.
  24. ^ Sun, Deedee (30 March 2018). "Seattle woman warns of potential new locksmith scam".
  25. ^ a b c Fletcher/ABC7, Lisa. "Fake map points on search engines lead you straight to scammers".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ "Palm Beach police arrest Broward man for allegedly running copycat locksmith business".
  27. ^ a b c d Staff, News. "BBB Scam of the Week: Locksmith Scam". {{cite web}}: |first= has generic name (help)
  28. ^ "Yellow Pages removes fraudulent 'cheap locksmith' listings using addresses of unrelated businesses - CBC News".
  29. ^ a b c "Israeli company cons Chicago residents". Ynetnews. 30 August 2005.
  30. ^ a b c "How Scammers Turn Google Maps Into Fantasy Land". Bloomberg. 28 March 2014. Archived from the original on March 29, 2014.
  31. ^ "Five reasons why companies should be worried about click fraud". 23 February 2018.
  32. ^ a b "Superb investigative report on the fake locksmith scam / Boing Boing". boingboing.net. 6 February 2016.
  33. ^ Smith, Allan (11 October 2016). "3 Uncommon Scams Anyone Could Fall Prey To". HuffPost.
  34. ^ a b c d Siciliano, Robert (2 January 2014). "12 Ways to avoid Locksmith scams". HuffPost.
  35. ^ a b "I Fell For The Locksmith Scam". 31 October 2008.
  36. ^ a b c d Greenbaum, Dave (14 June 2014). "Know the Warning Signs of a Locksmith Scamming You".
  37. ^ a b Gardella, Adriana (24 November 2014). "A Business Owner Blames Search Engines for Lost Sales".
  38. ^ "Google Maps' spam problem presents genuine security issues / Boing Boing". boingboing.net. 31 March 2014.
  39. ^ Mariam, web team. "BBC - Watchdog: Reoffending rogue finally under lock and key..."
  40. ^ "Locksmith Sues Google, Others Claiming Spam Local Listings Illegal - Marketing Land". 27 October 2014.
  41. ^ "Virginia Business Owner Sues Google, Others for $8.4 million".
  42. ^ "Locksmiths try again to sue Google over fake local listings - Marketing Land". 3 March 2017.
  43. ^ "Clay van Doren".
  44. ^ http://thelocksmithpolice.com/exhibits/Numbered%20Exhibits/EXHIBIT%20057-Veritel.pdf [bare URL PDF]
  45. ^ http://thelocksmithpolice.com/exhibits/EXHIBIT%20005%20-%20ATLAS.DOC.pdf [bare URL PDF]
  46. ^ "Google Fights Fraud by Cracking Down on Plumbers and Locksmiths - Search Engine Journal". 4 October 2016.
  47. ^ "Google cracks down on dodgy tech support ads". The Register.
  48. ^ "Advanced Verification policies - Google Ads Help". support.google.com.