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Scam alert: Tips for spotting a sham locksmith

Post by Stacey Mulick / The News Tribune on Feb. 1, 2009 at 5:00 am with No Comments »
February 1, 2009 5:00 am

Be wary of scamming or illegitimate locksmiths.

Here’s a press release from the Better Business Bureau.

DuPont, WA – Jan. 27, 2009 – Winter is an easy time to become locked out of a vehicle or home while going to warm up a car. Being locked out can be a huge inconvenience and many are in a rush when it happens. Unfortunately, this is the perfect situation for con-artists to thrive.

Your Better Business Bureau wants consumers to be aware of the following. Scam locksmiths often list in directories, and advertise in yellow pages. They may use a local address, but when visiting that address a different business is located there or a different, legitimate locksmith. When calling for a quote, scam locksmiths often pull a bait-and-switch scam, by quoting rates around $40-$80, but upon arrival charge hundreds of dollars.

These scams are active in your BBB’s coverage area. Ryan Obermire, a locksmith from Wilsonville Lock Works, Inc. in Oregon, said that he has recently received 15 locksmith catalogs addressed to his business but with different business names. He speculates that these are scam locksmiths using their business address to fool customers.

Tips from your BBB and the FTC when looking for a locksmith:

- Be prepared. Look for a locksmith before needing one. Look up businesses with your Better Business Bureau at or 206-431-2222 for a BBB Reliability Report. Also check out the business with the Attorney General’s office.

- Call road side assistance if available. If locked out of a vehicle and have roadside assistance service, call them first. These services are sometimes included with the purchase of a car or as an add-on through an insurance company.

- Call family or friends for recommendations. If not prepared with a verified, trustworthy locksmith’s contact information, this is the next step.

- Not all locksmiths in directories and phone books are reputable. Be wary if the ad for a company only lists a Web site address. When calling a locksmith ask for their local store location. If they refuse to give it or give an address that does not match the directory listing, look elsewhere.

- Be wary of generic business names. If a company answers the phone with a generic phrase like "locksmith services," rather than a company-specific name, be wary. Ask for the legal name of the business. If they refuse to give it, call another locksmith.

- Get an estimate. Most legitimate locksmiths will give estimates on the phone for the total cost of work. Also ask about additional fees such as charges for mileage, a minimum service call fee, or responding in the middle of the night. Get a second estimate when the locksmith arrives for all work and replacement parts. If the price doesn’t jibe with the over-the-phone estimate, do not allow the work to be done. After the work is completed, get an itemized invoice that covers parts, labor, mileage and service call prices.

- Never sign a blank form authorizing work.

- Check for locksmith identification. Upon the locksmith’s arrival, ask for identification such as a business card and, where applicable, a locksmith license. Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington do not require locksmiths to be licensed. Check the invoice or bill to make sure it includes the company’s name.

- Check the vehicle for a business name. Some locksmiths will work out of a car for quick or emergency jobs, but most arrive in a service vehicle clearly marked with the company’s name. Confirm that the business card and invoice match the name on the vehicle.

- Expect the locksmith to ask for the property owner’s identification. Legitimate locksmiths should confirm the vehicle or home belongs to the consumer who is locked out.

- Replacing a lock is not normal. If locked out, be cautious if told up front that the lock has to be drilled and replaced. Experienced legitimate locksmiths have invested in tools and education to provide quality service that can unlock almost any door.

- Keep a reputable locksmith’s contact information. Once you find a reputable locksmith, keep the business’ contact information in your wallet or cell phone.

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