The locksmithing industry in the UK is essential for keeping residential and commercial properties safe and secure. Indeed, locksmithing is as much a part of British history as it is in America, with famous inventors and innovators such as William Bantham, Robert Barron, and Jeremiah Chubb being some of the most notable historical figures in locksmithing.
While most locksmiths in the UK operate legitimate, genuine businesses providing essential services, however, a small but growing number of rogue locksmiths continually prey upon victims with clever schemes such as the bait-and-switch scam.
These rogue scammers are wolves in sheep’s clothing and aren’t always easy to spot, but the below tips could alert you to a rogue locksmith and save you plenty of money and frustration.
What is a rogue locksmith?
A rogue locksmith is a scam artist who engages in dishonest activities under the guise of being a legitimate locksmith. The entire operation tends to be rather complex, involving multiple scammers operating entire cities or larger geographic areas.
Since locksmithing is unregulated in the UK, no formal license is required and anyone can call themselves a locksmith, qualified or not. While this has the benefit of lowering the entry barrier for honest apprentice locksmiths, it also attracts scammers looking to profit from their victims.
Why are rogue locksmiths a growing concern in the UK?
Unless you’ve just recently moved to the UK, you ought to be keenly aware already of the growing number of rogue locksmiths operating here, especially in big cities like London. Rogue locksmiths have been featured multiple times on the BBC’s Watchdog Rogue Traders programme and have also been discussed in parliament.
If sunlight is the best disinfectant, then shedding light on these scammers and showcasing their activities to the public can be an essential way of informing property owners in the UK so that they can take precautions against dealing with rogue locksmiths altogether.
Media coverage of rogue locksmiths
The Master Locksmiths Association was showcased on BBC This Morning Live in September 2023 with a segment showcasing step-by-step how rogue locksmiths operate and what property owners can do to rectify the situation if they have been scammed.
In this segment, a London homeowner had broken his key inside of the lock and did what anyone would do – contact an emergency locksmith with a quick Google search. Little did he suspect that he had contacted a rogue locksmith who did extract the key, but he then went on to drill out (unprofessionally, to boot) the lock and replace it with ropey workmanship, quoting the homeowner an eye-watering £981!
These are the consequences of contacting a rogue locksmith and why they should be avoided at all costs… those costs can add up! Below are some helpful tips on how to avoid rogue locksmiths such as the many examples showcased on television.
Red flags to look for
The best way to deal with a rogue locksmith is to not have to deal with them in the first place. This means understanding some of the telltale signs, or ‘red flags’ that they commonly employ. These include:
- Suspiciously low quotes: rogue locksmiths predominantly use bait-and-switch scams that use suspiciously low prices to get the attention of their victims. Many charge £59 or even lower amounts that are, quite simply, unreasonable for any legitimate locksmith. This price will never be honoured by a scammer, who will instead add on hidden fees costing hundreds of quid more than anticipated;
- Lacking identification: any genuine locksmith will proudly display their identification when they arrive to your property or will at least have it available upon request, whereas scammers tend to not have any identification. Why don’t they use a fake ID? Some may, but most of the time the scammer is an outsourced ‘locksmith’ from a call centre with no legitimate business of their own;
- High-pressure sales tactics: a rogue locksmith will almost always try to pressure the property owner into paying substantially more than advertised. They will also almost always try to drill out your lock, regardless of the true source of the problem, but this tip isn’t helpful if you’re in the process of being scammed. What is often a big red flag, however, is if the person answering the phone refuses to answer any enquiries or to provide an itemised and transparent quote. Instead, they will often speak abruptly and insist on their ‘low’ £59 fee;
- No physical business address: many rogue locksmiths operate from a virtual address without a physical business address. While some genuine locksmiths may lack a physical business location, rogue locksmiths almost always use a virtual address and use call centres to process calls from large geographic areas. If a locksmith has no business address and uses a call centre, consider it to be more often than not a scam operation.
Red flags when dealing with a rogue locksmith in person
The above tips are a first line of defence against having to deal with a rogue locksmith in the first place, but in the event that you’ve contacted one there are some further red flags that can alert you to their scam:
- Arrives in an unmarked, privated vehicle: quite often, rogue locksmiths are part of a more complex network of scammers whereby the locksmith that arrives is outsourced and shares a portion of their ill-gotten profits with those organising the scam. This means that they often arrive at your property in a private, unmarked vehicle, without a business logo or livery showing their brand.
- No professional due diligence: upon arriving to your property, a genuine locksmith should show their identification so that you know who they are, or at least have it readily available if you request to see it. A rogue locksmith, on the other hand, will not or at least will be hesitant to identify themselves or the company they work for. Moreover, a genuine locksmith will typically need reasonable evidence or proof that you reside at the given address; a rogue locksmith won’t care so long as they can complete their scam and make you pay for it;
- Reaches for the power drill immediately: jokingly called at times ‘drillsmiths’ by genuine locksmiths, rogue locksmiths often use a power drill to remove the lock from your door without asking any questions first. A real locksmith will almost never need to drill out a lock (maybe 1% of all cases), but a rogue locksmith will always do this so that they can replace the lock and charge a massively marked up fee for this ‘service;’
- Insists on cash payment, often aggressively: while there is certainly nothing wrong with cash (and in many cases, it’s preferable), a rogue locksmith will almost always insist on immediate cash payment for their services. This makes it a lot harder to seek restitution afterwards.
Locksmith accreditation and qualifications in the UK
One of the best ways to tell the difference between a genuine, trustworthy locksmith and a rogue locksmith is their qualifications. Although a license is not required to be a locksmith in the UK, having qualifications such as training courses, membership with recognised bodies such as the Master Locksmiths Association and UK Locksmiths Association, and being DBS checked can give peace of mind and reassurance that a locksmith is indeed genuine.
Keep in mind that rogue locksmiths often know this and may falsely claim to be affiliated with these organisations, but one tactic they like to use is to advertise that they are ‘police-approved’ with Met Police or West Yorkshire Police, for example. Police authorities in the UK do not publicly approve of individual locksmiths nor do they authorise these sorts of scammers to falsely use their badge on their website, so consider this to be a big red flag.
Tips to choose a reputable and legitimate locksmith
Now that we’ve covered some of the common red flags of a rogue locksmith, you may be wondering how to choose a reputable, trustworthy locksmith near you in the UK. We’ve covered this in greater detail in our blog article on why it’s important to choose the right locksmith, but below are a few tips specifically regarding good locksmiths vs scammers:
- Research beforehand: when looking for a locksmith in the UK, time is often of the essence, especially if you need an emergency locksmith. Haste makes waste, as the saying goes, and hasty decisions are exactly what many rogue locksmiths prey upon as they often devote considerable funds to advertising on search engines so that they’re listed first. Take a moment and compare a few results to potentially save lots of time, money, and headaches;
- Get recommendations: word of mouth is one of the best methods of advertising, and personal recommendations from friends, family, or a trusted neighbour may be far better than a random online search where rogue locksmiths await victims. Otherwise, use a trusted network such as Rated Locksmiths for professional, vetted and approved locksmiths near you in the UK;
- Check business details: before engaging to do business with any locksmith, take a moment to verify that their business is reasonably legitimate. Do a quick Google search for their business address; does it appear to be a real physical business address or a virtual address? Are there multiple negative reviews warning of scam behaviour? Even if it takes a few minutes, such due diligence could save you from being scammed;
- Request a free quote: all locksmiths should be willing to provide you with a free quote, even scammers, but a legitimate locksmith should ask you some questions about the nature of the problem you’ve encountered in order to provide you with a transparent and fair quote. Rogue locksmiths tend to insist on rock-bottom prices, e.g. £29-59 are commonly quoted amounts. Insist on an itemised quote for all works before engaging with a locksmith;
- Avoid paying in cash: digital payment such as with a Monzo or Revolut account or with a bank or credit card may be a lot safer than paying via cash, the preferred method of payment of practically all rogue locksmiths. Naturally, if you feel that the locksmith provided a fair and legitimate service and you haven’t been scammed, you are free to pay in cash. Keep in mind, however, that non-cash payment methods can be much easier to reverse if you have been scammed;
What to do if you’ve been scammed by a rogue locksmith
In the event that you have been scammed by a rogue locksmith, there are some steps you can take that might give you some restitution:
- Report the incident to authorities: contact local police authorities to report the incident and file a complaint with your local council’s trading standards, e.g. Essex trading standards complaint. These actions could lead to an investigation that could lead to exposure and/or punishment of the rogue locksmith;
- Leave an honest review: whenever possible, leave a review with the rogue locksmith that is visible to the public, alerting them of the scam. Multiple negative reviews can alert any future property owners to avoid the locksmith scammers;
- Seek reimbursement: if you’ve paid a rogue locksmith with a non-cash form of payment, alert your bank or credit card provider to see if they can reverse the charge as it was done fraudulently and under duress. In the aforementioned BBC This Morning Live television segment, the Londoner who was charged £981 for a simple broken key extraction did manage to receive a partial reimbursement of over £500 for his troubles.
How to avoid rogue locksmiths
The best way to avoid rogue locksmiths is, by far, never having to deal with them in the first place. Taking precautions and having knowledge about their common scam tactics can help you to avoid them outright, so due diligence and plenty of caution are helpful and can save you time and lots of money.
Rogue locksmiths are a small but toxic minority of all locksmiths in the UK and organisations such as the Master Locksmiths Association believe that greater regulation of the industry could eliminate many of their scams. In any case, for the time being, an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure. Avoid dealing with rogue locksmiths by following the above tips and by choosing locksmiths near you by using platforms such as Rated Locksmiths.
Trust Rated Locksmiths for vetted and approved locksmiths in the UK
The residential and commercial locksmiths listed on Rated Locksmiths have all been vetted and approved and provide honest, genuine locksmith services in the UK. Don’t take your chances with a potential scammer and instead use Rated Locksmiths today for genuine local locksmiths near you.