WEST PALM BEACH —
The rise of smartphones and mobile web searches is fueling a ripoff that targets people looking for a locksmith.
Hundreds of times a day in South Florida, people are being victimized by what’s known as “copycat” locksmiths using the names of legitimate businesses, fake addresses and phone numbers that funnel calls to boiler rooms with dozens of phone lines, experts say.
“When you Google ‘locksmith,’ nine out of 10 times the numbers that come up are not for legitimate locksmiths,” said Barry Roberts, an attorney with an office in Palm Beach Gardens, who represents the Associated Locksmiths of America. “It has really grown exponentially with the Internet and with the voice-over-IP phones,” which turn simple telephone signals into digital data that can be sent anywhere.
“You can’t tell where anybody really is.”
Driving the trend is that people don’t always plan to call locksmiths, instead turning to them in an emergency, for example, when they’re unexpectedly locked out of their home or car. Also, locksmiths aren’t licensed, which opens the field to workers with little training.
The epidemic is putting consumers’ security at risk and costing brick-and-mortar companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost business.
“The tip off is they won’t give a written estimate, and they want payment upfront. They want cash. They will take the ATM card and ask people to get money out,” Roberts said. “It gets consumers at their most vulnerable.”
If someone answers the phone with a generic “locksmith” or “locksmith’s service,” or “Florida locksmith” rather than a company name, it’s most likely not a legitimate locksmith, Roberts said.
Be wary of a worker who shows up in an unmarked vehicle, isn’t wearing a company uniform and doesn’t carry business cards, work orders or an invoice with the company’s name, he said.
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