Superb investigative report on the fake locksmith scam

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If you've ever locked yourself out of your home and googled for a locksmith, you've seen that it's virtually impossible to reach a real local locksmith.

Instead, nearly every locksmith that appears on Google Maps is a fake business that redirects to a call center -- sometimes offshore -- that dispatches a scammy, distant, barely trained locksmith who'll come and charge you 5-10 times more than you were quoted (and sometimes break your lock/door/heart).

The locksmith scam combines "search engine optimization," scamming, and a pipeline of unskilled workers who come to the US mostly from Israel and get roped into serving as the frontmen for operations largely run by Israeli expats. It's not just locksmiths, either -- garage door repair, carpet cleaning, home security and moving are also all totally colonized by scam-artists who play Google Maps like a fiddle.

The New York Times's David Segal gets into all the angles on the con: the armies of Google volunteers who seek out and destroy the fake businesses in Maps (and sometimes get fired from their unpaid jobs when they complain too bitterly about Google's indifference to the con artists), the failed attempts to criminally or civilly prosecute the cons, the con artists themselves, and the devastation of the legit locksmith industry, whose customers can no longer find them.

For years, security researchers have been raising alarms about the massive scam and spam problem in Google Maps, but the situation shows no sign of improving.

In a search for locksmiths in Mountain View, Calif., home to Google’s headquarters, the first AdWords listing was 24hourlocksmithsanjose.net, which offered $19 service. Research into the company’s domain name revealed that it is owned by Yossi Assraf of Locksmith Advertising, in Portland, Ore.

Mr. Assraf also owns more than 800 other domain names, according to the website Whoisology, including 247westpalmbeach.com, 247locksmithlouisville.com, 247-locksmithcleveland.com, 247-locksmithjerseycity.com and so on.

Those have all the trappings of a lead gen. And, 247 Locksmith Advertising has an F rating from the Better Business Bureau, along with a list of nearly identical complaints.

“Over all the cost was $200!!” wrote one unhappy customer, who had been expecting to pay $19. “This was a complete bait and switch!”

Messages left for Yossi Assraf were not returned.

Recently, I sent Google the ad for 24hourlocksmithsanjose, as well as a screen shot of the fake Locksmith Force building and the names of about 20 other locksmiths that appeared to be lead gens. The company asked for a few days to look into the matter.

Fake Online Locksmiths May Be Out to Pick Your Pocket, Too [David Segal/New York Times]

(via Super Punch)

(Image: Deviant/Toool)

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