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Google's Incompetence: Hell for Legit Locksmiths, Great for Locksmith Scams

There’s an ongoing, nation-wide locksmith scam that no one seems able to stop—not even the “almighty” Google. Perhaps you’ve heard of this scam already. After all, it’s been a frequent topic for local news outlets in large and midsize cities spanning every corner of the country.

A Brief Summary of the Scam

The scam goes something like this:

  1. You lock yourself out of your car or house late at night.
  2. In a panic, you google emergency locksmiths nearby and call the first one you find.
  3. The person who answers your call gives you a price quote (anywhere from $20 to $90).
  4. A locksmith shows up and tells you the job will be more complicated than they thought. The price is now double what you were quoted.
  5. You agree to the higher price because it’s late, you’re tired, and you have no other options.
  6. The locksmith successfully opens your car or house door (sometimes even drilling into the lock, thus requiring the installation of a new one), but now tells you the price is even higher. He demands payment in cash.
  7. Since he has your keys, you’re not in a position to argue.
  8. You begrudgingly accept the final price because you feel like you’re out of options, even though you know you’re being ripped off.

As this New York Times article from January 2016 explains, these scams are carried out by call centers all across the country. They operate by manipulating Google Maps listings and paying large sums of money to advertise with AdWords. This allows them to capture the attention of panicked, locked-out locals and dispatch unqualified subcontractors to their locations. And that’s when they get you. It’s one of the most successful get-rich-quick schemes out there.

Google Is Not Doing Enough

Unfortunately, Google has been enabling these scams, intentionally or not. Google has established extra precautions when it comes to verifying the legitimacy of locksmith listings, but these measures have only made it more difficult for honest locksmiths. Meanwhile, the shady locksmith companies run rampant, finding loopholes simply by using AdWords. Given the wide reach of the scams, Google treats locksmith companies with suspicion right out of the gate. Locksmith listings are under constant scrutiny, as Google monitors them closely for any spam-like behavior or other red flags. There’s even a special, involved process when verifying new or updated listings. The extra review makes life more difficult for legitimate locksmiths, but it would be worth the trouble if it actually did anything to reduce the frequency of scams. Unfortunately, it hasn’t had this effect. Not even close. As long as shady locksmiths are able to advertise with Google AdWords, post photos of fake storefronts, and weasel their way to the top of local search results, the scams will continue. Of course, it’s impossible for Google to identify scams with 100% accuracy. However, it’s Google. It has more resources, manpower, and control than any of us can even imagine. How is it possible that it hasn’t implemented more effective safeguards against locksmith scams? Here’s how Prospect Genius thinks Google should be handling this problem:

  • Post a general warning about the scam on all locksmith listings, including red flags to watch out for, so customers are on high alert.
  • Require all locksmiths to display certain credentials (e.g. business license, membership with the Associated Locksmiths of America).
  • Use existing technology to warn customers when they’re calling a number on a VoIP line (which is what many of these scam artists use).
  • Leverage Google Pay to mandate pre-payment for emergency locksmith services so the customer doesn’t get ripped off at the last minute.
  • Verify addresses and storefronts for locksmiths by driving to their physical locations in the Street View Car.

It’s baffling that a small team like Prospect Genius can come up with more productive solutions than Google can.

It’s Up to You

Obviously, we can’t count on Google to make significant changes any time soon. For now, it’s up to honest locksmiths to educate your communities.

  • Spread the word about this scam.
  • Band together with nearby locksmiths and inform your customers about realistic price points.
  • Add a price list to your website.
  • Share news stories about the scam on social media.
  • If you know a specific company in your area is scamming people, call them out!

We can’t single-handedly stop these locksmith scams, but if we spread as much information as possible, we can at least reduce the number of victims. Here are some news stories to get you started: