There has been a rise in rogue locksmiths visiting households during lockdown leaving homes at risk, new research warns.
With the pandemic leaving many working from home, there has been a significant increase in homeowners inadvertently calling out rogue locksmiths, according to trade body, the Master Locksmiths Association.
In a survey of its members, it found there had been more than 300 botched jobs involving a rogue locksmith over the last year with 65 per cent of locksmiths saying the fraudsters are overcharging customers by £200 or more.
Lily, a 24-year-old finance company project manager living in London, is one such person who unfortunately fell victim to a rogue locksmith in early October.
Keep safe: There has been a rise in rogue locksmiths visiting households during lockdown
After returning home from a dinner with friends, she tried to unlock her flat door but the latch wouldn’t open.
After doing an online search for an emergency locksmith, avoiding calling the cheapest ones, she opted for one with a price list.
In hindsight she says these prices were ‘complete fiction’.
The tradesman, who wasn’t wearing any branded clothing, turned up around 30 minutes later with Lily explaining the problem.
Before he started, Lily asked how much the job would cost and was told £200 – no other costs were mentioned.
The tradesman repeatedly told Lily that that he’d attended lots of jobs like this and that her landlord would pay her back as the lock is faulty, intimating that regardless of how much she’d be invoiced, she wouldn’t be out of pocket.
The job only took around 30 minutes, however, the tradesman presented Lily with a huge bill of £1,465.
Lily said: ‘I said to the tradesman: “This is crazy, it’s an insane amount of money.”‘
She questioned why he was charging so much but he said it was down to an emergency-call out in the middle of the night.
Unfortunately, as more people have lost their jobs in the pandemic, they will look to cut costs
As someone who hasn’t rented that long and wasn’t overly familiar with City prices, she trusted what he told her and paid the bill on her debit card.
After doing some research the next day, she got in touch with an approved MLA member who told her how much the job should have cost, which was between £250 to £350.
Lily also unearthed lots of negative reviews on Trustpilot about the same company and it was then she realised she’d been scammed.
She emailed and called the tradesman, after being told to do so by the firm, but they didn’t respond.
After threatening to report them to Trading Standards, they initially offered her a partial refund of £80+ VAT, which Lily refused, so they increased the offer to £125+VAT but is still awaiting the refund.
She says her case serves as a warning to other people to be careful when selecting a locksmith online.
The MLA has long called for the industry to be regulated as, currently, anyone can claim to be a locksmith without having to show any identification.
* Lily is not her real name
One of the tell-tale signs of a rogue locksmith is those quoting an unusually low price
Pandemic could mean fraudsters take advantage
Unfortunately Lily is not alone in her experience with the MLA reporting being contacted upwards of 500 times in the last 12 months with stories about unscrupulous activities by people masquerading as locksmiths.
The pandemic has also had an impact as unemployment rates are rising after firms cut thousands of jobs, which means fraudsters likely to take advantage.
Steffan George, managing director of the MLA, said: ‘The industry is unregulated so it’s easy to set up as a locksmith with no training, experience or insurance.
‘During the pandemic, we expect the number of incidences involving rogue locksmiths to rise as people under increasing financial pressure see it as an easy way to make money.’
Homeowners are also keeping a closer eye on their finances which means they may be tempted by the lure of a good deal.
George adds: ‘Experience tells us that at best, rogues are going to do a sub-standard job or overcharge after initially quoting a cheaper price in a tactic known as bait-and-switch, sometimes ultimately charging ten times that of an inspected locksmith, or at worse, display threatening behaviour or withhold keys to locks they’ve just fitted.
‘There are already hundreds of uncertified people working in the industry. With numbers expected to increase, people need to be aware of the dangers and know how to select a reputable locksmith to ensure they don’t fall victim to a rogue.’
There are several tell-tale signs that you could be dealing with a rogue locksmith.
These include those quoting an unusually low price, being vague about experience and also acting uncertain about how they would carry out the work.
To ensure you don’t fall foul of a rogue locksmith, one of the most important things to look out for is who answers the phone when calling.
When they select a professional in the trade, calls should be answered by a locksmith, not diverted to a call centre, in which details about the locksmith who is doing the job can’t be provided or are difficult to obtain.
In addition, tradesmen should be happy to talk about previous jobs and experience as well as provide photographs and recommendations.
How to keep your home secure
This is Money previously visited the Master Locksmith Association’s headquarters to learn more about how the trade body operates – and to find out how you can keep your home safe.
The MLA provided five top tips to ensure households can sleep tight knowing their home is secure.
1. Have your home security assessed: As the UK’s largest trade association for locksmiths, it is encouraging people to have their home assessed by the Association’s expert locksmiths – a survey they will complete free of charge.
Although most people think they have tight security, they would actually be amazed by how easy it would be for criminals to access their homes.
2. Make sure you have a proper lock installed: One of the main security problems most people have is not having the correct lock fitted in their front door.
Many people buy cheap replica locks of well known brands from their local hardware store which, unfortunately, do not stand up to the test and are unable to prevent intruders from entering.
For people to have peace of mind, it is advised that they splash out on recommended locks and bolts.
3. Use Sold Secure tested products: Sold Secure’s main purpose is to test security products on the market, anything from motorbike chains to bicycle locks, to see how well they stand up against someone trying to steal them. This means anything recommended by them is as secure as it gets.
4. Use only an approved locksmith: One of the main problems in the industry is that locksmiths are not regulated – anybody can claim to be a locksmith and fit a lock at someone’s house. Find an approved locksmith through the MLA to ensure you’re not being ripped off.
5. Take security seriously: The MLA want households to protect themselves as much as possible. This could be through ensuring they have lots of sensor lighting outside of the home or simply leaving the lights on inside when they are out as it will make potential criminals think they’re in.
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