Locksmith Scammers: Services Not Rendered

Needless Damage

It never hurts to make sure the company you hire to work on your safe is qualified, competent, and established. In fact, it's essential.

What you see at right is the result of hiring a person who didn't know the first thing about the job he was hired for.

Here's how it happened: 
A man called me about getting a safe open. His brother had died, and the caller was the executor of the brother's estate.

While going through his brother's home he found a locked safe in the garage. He also found a record of what appeared at first glance to be the safe combination. As the executor, he needed to inventory the safe's contents.

When he tried the combination he'd found, it didn't work. After repeated unsuccessful tries, he concluded that
a) either he had the correct numbers but wasn't dialing them correctly (very common),
b) the numbers he'd found were wrong (also very common).

I asked a few questions, then told the caller how much it would cost to get the safe opened if the combination was indeed unknown. In a surprised voice, he told me a locksmith he'd already talked to had quoted a much lower price, and told me how much. The price was lower than my minimum. I told to take that low price. He thanked me for the price quote, I thanked him for the call, and that was the end of our conversation . . . C'est la vie, n'est ce pas? Win some lose some. I don't play the underbidding game.

A few hours later the estate executor called back. He told me the locksmith had tried dialing the combination he'd found, but they didn’t work for him either. After spending over an hour on it, he said, the locksmith had bowed out, saying the safe had to be drilled, and he didn’t do drillings. The estate executor was now accepting my price.

When I arrived I found that the locksmith had not only tried dialing but he'd also torn the dial off the safe. The photo above is what the dial looked like when the locksmith got done. I could tell by the way it had been removed that the locksmith knew almost nothing about safe locks. There are much neater and faster ways to remove a safe dial than what you see in the picture.

It was only after all his fiddling around and doing damage that the locksmith had admitted he wasn't in the safe opening business. Then he left, but not until writing up an invoice and collecting a show-up fee.

I don't who was dumber, the clueless locksmith, or the estate executor who paid him a show-up fee.

A side note here: When burglars or inept albeit legitimate technicians do damage before I get the job it often complicates what might have been a straightforward piece of work. That in turn usually makes the job more costly. Sad but true, you get what you pay for.

To make a long story short, the first thing I did was to try to figure out the dial's position when the locksmith had torn it off so I could very carefully try dialing the combination that hadn't worked for the executor or the locksmith.

It took about ten minutes of careful work, but the lock opened the second time I dialed the combination, despite the grievous damage to the torn-off dial. The executor was surprised to say the least. He paid me happily.

For my part, I was privately astounded. The fact that the safe had opened on the combination I'd been given made it very apparent that the locksmith who visited them really didn't know the first thing about safes. Dialing a valid combination for a common safe lock is not a job that requires a locksmith. I can (and usually do) walk a safe owner through the process by phone if they tell me they have the combination.

The locksmith who accepted that job had to have known he was clueless about safes before going there. Yet he went anyway, probably hoping to get lucky. The mystery (to me, at least) had more to do with the locksmith's decision to hack and tear the dial off the safe if he had no intention of going through with the opening job.

That locksmith wasted everyone's time by accepting a job he knew he couldn't do. To make matters worse, he also did needless damage to a safe in working and usable condition. Then he charged for it.

Though I've never met him, I see this guy around town once in a while. His appearance always gave me the distinct impression that he's a duffer, one of those retired-from-some-other-job types who answered a "Be Your Own Boss -- Be A Locksmith" ad in Popular Mechanics for a mail-order course in locksmithing. Probably because it seemed like an interesting way to keep busy and make few dollars to supplement his retirement checks.

Although I'd class that local guy as a clueless duffer, there are more sharklike versions of what this guy did. All over the US now we have locksmith scam operations that accept all jobs at low prices. When the guy shows up, he looks things over then requotes higher, with some bogus reason why the original low pricing doesn't apply. If the surprised or indignant customer objects, the so-called locksmith demands a show-up fee and often gets it.

To be sure, there are some jobs they can do, like car opening or rekeying a door. However, the person who takes the call on the phone will assure the caller that they can handle any job. When it's a safe, the "locksmith" goes through some basic motions, like dialing repeatedly and thumping the door with a dead blow hammer or worse. They usually stop after a short time, declare that it needs to be drilled, and that furthermore they don't do that. Then they write an invoice and want to get paid. This a locksmith scammer classic.

Owing to a lack of any real regulation or entrance requirements, locksmithing is one of the most popular retirement pastimes in America. It attracts a lot of scammers, too. At least it seems that way.

It's not hard to look like a wizard when following someone like that.



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