I delete emails from down-and-out Nigerian royalty. Stranded hospital-bound strangers get nothing. And when Bernie Madoff made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, I said, “No way!” Or I would have, if he had…you get the drift. Consequently, it is with great humility (and some shame) that I admit this in a public forum: I got scammed by a locksmith—or more accurately, a con artist posing as a locksmith. Here’s how it happened.
One bright fall morning, I carefully locked all the doors to my house, walked my kids to the bus stop and handed my only house key to my son (who had forgotten his). As the bus disappeared around the corner, I realized what I’d done. Luckily (or so I thought),
we live in the digital age. A helpful neighbor whipped out a cell phone, googled “locksmith” and instantly came up with a click-to-call phone number. An operator answered immediately. All I had to do was wait. I set to work weeding the garden in my pajamas.
The “locksmith” arrived fairly quickly. After 20 minutes, though, he still couldn’t get the front door open. He said it was because it was a newly installed lock and went to work on the back door while I continued weeding. As I later learned, this is common practice among reputable locksmiths, so points to me for not worrying about it. After another 20 minutes, he finally picked the lock. As I was thanking him, he handed me a bill for $400! I balked. He said it was so expensive because it had been a particularly difficult job. I asked for a receipt; he said he would email it to me. Then he asked me to write my check out to “Cash.” I was now at least an hour late for work, so I paid him.
At some point during my commute, I realized something was wrong. I tried to stop the check (already cashed) and find contact information for the locksmith company (nothing). I’d been scammed. He was good. Not a good locksmith, but an accomplished con artist who understood how to prey on easy targets like me. He was friendly, if a little harassed. He said he’d already been on three jobs that morning, but he still seemed to want to do a good job for me. He thanked me profusely when I found a pick he had dropped. “I could have lost my license for that,” he said. By mentioning his license so casually, he made me assume he had one.
Obviously, I made a series of dumb mistakes. I didn’t ask to see his license or any identification; I didn’t ask him the price before he got to work. Looking back, I see that my worst mistake was not knowing the name of a reliable locksmith before handing my house key to my son. I paid the price for these mistakes—quite literally. But some good came out of this: Not only have I done my homework and know who to call should I get locked out again, but my carefully weeded garden looks better than ever.