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7 Tips to Avoid Locksmith Scams

Take the time to find a reliable, local locksmith before you need one in an emergency.

Locksmith scams tend to target home and auto owners when they're at their most vulnerable — in an emergency and needing immediate assistance.

Many consumers think they're doing the right thing by searching online for a local locksmith. But what they may not realize is that locksmith scammers are gaming those online directories by imitating legitimate local locksmiths.

In many cases, these locksmiths don’t operate local shops, and are run by out-of-state call centers. In fact, they may not even be trained as locksmiths at all.

To avoid hiring a thief or unskilled worker to solve your locked-out problem, take the time to research the company first. And follow these tips before you hire:

1. Look for a truly "local" locksmith

The best way to know whether a locksmith is trustworthy is to research them in advance. Call them, ask them detailed questions and check their reviews.

If you're in a hurry, be wary of locksmith companies that answer calls with generic phrases like “locksmith services,” rather than a specific name. If a locksmith cannot or will not provide the business’ legal name, find another locksmith.

If you find a locksmith with a "local" address, search for that specific address online and see whether any other businesses use the same address. Ask the company when you call to confirm its location.

Also, use extra scrutiny if a locksmith company uses an 800 number instead of a local phone number. It's often a sign you're dealing with an out-of-state call center.

2. Check locksmith ID and licensure

When the locksmith arrives, ask for identification, including a locksmith license where applicable.

Only 15 states require locksmith licensing, making it a crime to advertise or work as a locksmith without proper credentials: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Be skeptical of locksmiths who claim to be licensed in states that don't require licensure.

A legitimate locksmith should also ask you for identification to verify that they are unlocking a home or car that belongs to you. Use caution if the locksmith shows up in an unmarked vehicle, or one advertising a different business

name than the company you hired.

3. Ask the locksmith for a cost estimate

Call center locksmiths typically quote prices between $15 and $40 to start. They bait-and-switch customers by advertising low prices, then price gouging after they arrive, claiming the job is more complicated and will cost more.

The average locksmith service call costs at least $60, says Robert Vallelunga, owner of ACME Locksmith in Scottsdale, Arizona, adding that prices in the $15 to $40 range are typically signs of a scam. “What the customer has to realize is, you’re paying to get a locksmith shop at your home. And with that, there’s a bit of overhead,” Vallelunga says.

A locksmith’s fee pays for tools, any licensing costs, continued training and transportation to and from a job. No skilled or reputable locksmith that charges $15 for a job could remain in business, Vallelunga says.

Get an estimate before any work begins, including emergency service. Don't hire a locksmith who refuses to provide an estimate.

4. Inquire about additional charges

Ask about extra charges for things like emergency hours, mileage or service call minimums before you agree to have the work performed.

The scammers might also claim the lock on your home or car is obsolete and needs to be replaced. They’ll charge hundreds of dollars to replace the lock with what they claim is a high-security lock. But in reality, it’s a cheap lock offering little protection, Vallelunga says.

5. Watch out for fluctuating bids

If the locksmith’s on-site price doesn’t match the phone estimate, don’t allow the work to be performed.

Some locksmiths may demand payment after doing shoddy work or inflating the bill, and threaten to call the police or file a lawsuit if you don’t comply.

If that happens, call their bluff. Let them call the police, or offer to call for them.

6. Don't let the locksmith drill your lock

If you’re locked out, be wary of locksmiths who recommend or insist on drilling or replacing the lock. Drilling is typically only needed to open high-security locks. Most experienced locksmiths possess the skills and tools to unlock almost any door.

High security locks are designed to stop people from bumping or picking a door open, and they require specialized keys cut to comply with the lock’s grooves.

7. Questions to ask a locksmith before hiring

Ask these questions before hiring a locksmith. If a business can’t provide detailed answers, don’t hire them.

• Where are you located? • How will you get into the house? Will you need to drill my lock? Can you tell me the exact process? • Do you need a picture of the lock? • Can you give me an estimate? What factors will cause this price to change? • Do you require cash, or can I pay with a check or credit card? • What’s the name of the locksmith who will be coming?

If you think you've been overcharged or scammed by a locksmith, contact your state attorney general's office.

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