Locking yourself out of your car or home is frustrating enough. But imagine calling a locksmith then being charged double – or even more – the quoted fee. The Attorney General’s Office receives complaints every per month about so-called “local” locksmiths pulling a bait-and-switch. In many cases, these “locksmiths” arrive in unmarked vehicles, damage doors in their feeble attempts to pick locks and still demand more money.
Most consumers who filed complaints with us searched for “locksmith” on the Web and clicked on a top-ranked listing.
Although these companies claim to be nearby, don’t expect to find a store front. Last month, the New York Times found that “according to Yelp, there are – no joke – nearly 3,000 locksmiths in Seattle, though with relatively rare exceptions these operations aren’t in Seattle at all. They are phone banks, typically set up in far-off places, often in other countries. Call them and they’ll dispatch a locksmith. Some are legitimate, but others may all too often do shoddy work and/or charge two or three times the estimate.”
A KIRO TV investigative report in 2009 found listings with fake addresses. “We found a supposed locksmith business in Greenwood is actually an upholstery store. A Belltown-area locksmith is really a restaurant. We also tracked down locksmith companies that claim to work out of a downtown Seattle pizza place, a cafe in the International District, an auto repair shop, and a rural field in Bonney Lake,” the report states.
An attempt to regulate the industry by requiring a special license and background checks for locksmiths died in the state Legislature.
So, how do you protect yourself?
- 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.