Licensed locksmiths are warning consumers about a new breed of online imposters.
The so-called “ghost locksmiths” place deceptive Google advertisements that make it seem like they operate out of storefronts on main streets around America.
In reality the ads are mirages that lead, not to local merchants, but to far-flung call centers that dispatch mostly anonymous, unlicensed men who call themselves locksmiths.
“These people are ghosts. You can’t find them,” says Paul Gibilisco, a master locksmith who operates out of Old Bridge, NJ.
“They use fake addresses to make people feel comfortable that they’re local,” says David Rible, a master locksmith who operates out of Point Pleasant, NJ. “These people are coming out making the locksmith industry as a whole look like rip-off artists."
New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York City all require locksmiths go through some sort of licensing process.
When NBCNew York summoned a suspected “ghost locksmith” to Teaneck, New Jersey the man who arrived in an unmarked SUV could not produce a state-mandated ID card.
New Jersey requires that locksmiths carry the card when responding to jobs. Locksmiths in New Jersey must also complete 40 hours of training and undergo a criminal background check.
“People who are licensed, like myself, the state knows who we are. We’re easily obtainable,” Gibilisco says.
Consumer advocates also warn that “ghost locksmiths” often try to scam customers with bait-and-switch tactics. NBC News York called several phone numbers associated with phantom locksmith storefronts. All of the dispatchers quoted a low introductory price, but refused to guarantee a final price.
“If they get the year, make, model and where [the vehicle] is located, they should be able to give you an exact price,” says David Rible.
Rible also urges customers to be skeptical if a locksmith arrives in an unmarked vehicle.
“You want to make sure that locksmith comes out in a lettered vehicle so you know it is who you called. They should be wearing a uniform. They should have some sort of name tag or at least a business card for the company that you called.”
New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs spokesman Jeff Lamm says the state has received several complaints about “ghost locksmiths” and he encouraged customers to file a complaint if they suspect an unlicensed locksmith has responded to their home or locked-out vehicle.