Getting locked out of your apartment on a day your landlord's not around is unpleasant, to say the least, and shelling out major money for an emergency locksmith is even less fun. But if you do find yourself in such a predicament, be wary of who you Google—the Times reported this weekend on the proliferation of fake online locksmiths who send out contractors that'll jack up the cost of a door lock.
Apparently, some locksmith results on Google present themselves as physical stores nearby, but are really "lead generators," or out-of-state call centers that send subcontractors to your home once you place the call. Though you'll get a certain estimate on the phone, the contractors will jack that up into the hundreds. “It was very late, and it was very cold,” one victim told the Times. “This guy shows up and says he needs to drill my door lock, which will cost $350, about seven times the estimate I’d been given on the phone. And he demanded cash.”
Lead generators game Google's algorithm to get on the front page of search results in ad listings. They use fraudulent addresses, and the Times reported on one lead gen company that went so far as to photoshop an address on Google Maps to look more legit. Locksmiths have been suing Google in the hope of getting the fake addresses off the site, but so far no dice.
A lot of lead gens come from Israel, per the Times, and listings for jobs in the U.S. are frequently posted online. One Israeli transplant to New Jersey says his lead gen boss, who was also Israeli, told him "to size up each customer and ask for as much money as possible."
If you find yourself in need of a locksmith, it's a good idea to look up a locksmith's business address to make sure it's legitimate, check the company service vehicles, ask for identification, and check the price quotes. If a locksmith tries to charge you more than you were quoted over the phone, don't hire him, and don't pay him cash up front.