SEATTLE — A Seattle woman says a scammer posed as the locksmith she called for help -- and used a credible business to bilk her out of hundreds of dollars.
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When Judi Gibbs tried to call a locksmith she knew in Magnolia, to get her doors re-keyed, she Googled the business – Gabe's Lock and Key.
She saw the website, the address, and the call button. She hit the call button and scheduled an appointment.
"And somebody showed up at the front door of the appointed time and said he worked for Gabe," Gibbs said.
Instead of replacing the part of the lock where the key goes in, Gibbs said the man installed all new hardware and charged her $407 for it – much more than she was expecting.
"I called Gabe, and he said, 'Hey, that's not me. I didn't do that.' And at that point I realized what had happened," Gibbs said. "I was really upset! I cannot tell you how upset I was," she said.
Gibbs called Seattle police and her bank to halt the charge.
She says after talking with police, she realized from a smart phone, the calls can be hijacked.
Worried that the scammer kept a copy of her house key, she had the real Gabe swap out the locks again.
Gabe De Gaalon, who owns Gabe's Lock and Key, told KIRO 7 that he's been a locksmith for decades.
"I feel sorry more so for the clients, because the clients are spending all this money for sub-par service. Also, they're giving locksmiths, legitimate locksmiths, a bad name," he said.
While seeing his fair share of scams, he says manipulating a phone number from a smartphone is a newer one. His advice is to ask for a business card or check the number on a locksmith's website, comparing it with search results.
The Washington Attorney General's office says it's not yet heard of complaints of calls getting "hijacked" yet, but encourages you to file a complaint if you feel like you've been scammed.
It recommends you to program a reputable locksmith's phone number into your contacts, after you find one. The AG's office also offers these tips to help keep yourself safe:
• If you're locked out of your car and have a roadside assistance service, call them first. These services sometimes are included with the purchase of a car, as an add-on through your insurance company or through a membership club such as AAA.
• Ask for referrals. When I needed a locksmith last month to install a dead bolt, I asked for referrals from a neighbor and my condo association manager. I received two similar quotes, checked out reviews online and ensured the company I selected had a physical location. In situations where you have the time, check out locksmiths with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) to make sure there are no unresolved complaints on file.
• Use a locksmith with a shop. A physical location or shop ensures that you have a way to contact the business in case of a problem, but of course you'll need to confirm the address. There are good mobile-only locksmiths out there, and if you received their name through a reference, by all means use them.
• Dial a local number and listen to how the person answers the phone. If a company answers the phone with a generic phrase like "locksmith," rather than a company-specific name, be wary. Ask for the legal name of the business. If the person refuses, call another locksmith.
• Get an estimate for all work and replacement parts from the locksmith before work begins. In cases of a lock-out, most legitimate locksmiths will give you an estimate on the phone for the total cost of the work. After the work is completed, demand an invoice.
• Ask for ID, including a business card. Expect the locksmith to ask you for identification, as well. A legitimate locksmith should confirm your identity and make sure you're the property owner before doing any work. Some legitimate locksmiths will work out of a car for quick or emergency jobs, but most will arrive in a service vehicle that is clearly marked with the name of the business.
• Remember, this person has the keys to your car or home. So if you're not comfortable with the service provider, refuse service.