So you’ve locked yourself out of house, what do you do? You can’t get ahold of friends or family who may have a spare key so your next best option is to call a locksmith. You conduct some Internet research on your phone and immediately have a large number of options to choose from. Without thinking, you called the first locksmith on your screen. But, how do you know you selected a reputable company?
While there are a number of legitimate locksmiths, scammers are looking to take advantage of your misfortune. Locksmiths purchase web positioning or use Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to be listed at the top of Internet searches for “Locksmith.” Reputable locksmiths, more often, rely upon word of mouth and avoid the high cost of Internet advertising in order to keep their prices low. Consumers need to do their homework in advance and have a locksmith in mind BEFORE one is needed. Selecting a locksmith on your smart phone during an emergency increases the chances of being ripped off.
Problem websites are often operated by out of state companies who hire inexperienced “locksmiths.” Locksmiths are not licensed or regulated by the state, and there is no training, qualifications, or criteria for calling oneself a “locksmith”. Some locksmiths are recruited from overseas and are dependent upon out of town syndicates for their work visas, and for job referrals. These locksmiths may be too willing to engage in the deceptive overcharging schemes required by the syndicate.
Web advertising misleads consumers as to the price of their service by prominently advertising a low (i.e. $15-$40) “service call”. What these locksmiths fail to disclose (and consumers fail to clarify when calling) is that the service fee only covers the charge for appearing. The cost of actually opening the car (car lockout) or installing new locks (residential lockout) is far more. These locksmiths claim they cannot determine the full price until they arrive and determine the difficulty of the job (i.e. condition of the car, security systems, make and model of car, location of keys, complexity of door lock, etc.). However, most reputable locksmiths will quote the total price before booking the job based, and require no further information than the make and model of the car and the distance to the job. More than 90% of car lockouts take less than ten minutes to open (only a few luxury car models present real difficulty). Locksmiths who claim they cannot determine the cost to unlock a car until they arrive are often setting up the consumer for an exorbitant charge.
When searching for a locksmith, look for company with an actual street address so you have an accurate idea of the area they service. Unscrupulous locksmiths will advertise a 15 minute response time but fail to disclose they may be 40-60 minutes away. They know that when they show up late many consumers will be reluctant to send them away and begin the locksmith search anew. Scam locksmiths will open the vehicle and then surprise the consumer with a total charge far in excess of the quoted service call charge. Consumers’ complain of being intimidated when the locksmith belligerently argues that the consumer should have known that the service fee was not the total fee. The locksmith is counting on the consumer’s unwillingness to refuse payment and to start anew the process of finding another locksmith.
Keys to avoiding being scammed:
- Do your research now - Ask friends, family, and co-workers who they recommend.
- Check out the business first with your local Better Business Bureau.
- Keep your preferred locksmith’s business card in your wallet or store the number in your cell phone.
- Always confirm the price of job if possible before agreeing to hire the locksmith, including trip charges and fees.
- Consider purchasing road assistance from an auto club or from your auto insurer. Roadside assistance coverage may cost as little as an additional $5-7 a month on your car insurance.
If you believe you have been defrauded by a locksmith or wish to report suspicious activity, please file a report here.