Keys to finding an honest locksmith

November 12, 2012 9:09:56 PM PST
It's one of those situations most of us find ourselves in at one point or another - locked out and in need of a locksmith.

But while most in the profession are honest, a new scam is emerging. The key to avoiding it is being aware.

Jack Sheehan lives in an older house in Westchester and while the antique fixtures have a certain visual appeal, they are known to, at times, fall short in functionality.

"I had a tumbler lock that was loose, it wasn't quite fitting properly," Sheehan recalled.

Locked out, and in a bind, he did what anyone would; he flipped through the Yellow Pages in search of a locksmith.

"When the fellow came, it took about 10, 15 minutes at best for him to fix it," Sheehan said.

It was a job for which he was first quoted $50.

But then Sheehan asked the locksmith to simply look at three more locks.

And then came the bill.

"I was shocked. At first, I didn't know what to do, my mind almost went blank when I look at $206.90, I think it was," Sheehan said.

Reggie Wade works with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, a federal law enforcement agency that tracks down fraud, and he says this is one they've been seeing a lot of.

"These fraudsters are always looking for another twist on their scam, and this is the most recent one," Wade said.

In just one year, Wade's office and one in Washington tallied hundreds of similar complaints.

"About 797 referrals related to these locksmith scams," Wade said.

According to the Better Business Bureau, price gauging is an increasingly common complaint when it comes to locksmiths.

You need their service and the unscrupulous ones know it.

"You're hectic and frantic and you're looking for a number and that's when they prey on you," Wade said.

According to Wade, some fraudulent locksmiths have taken to grouping their Yellow Pages ads around legitimate ones, both in the phone book and online.

In a pinch, you call the first one you see. They arrive on scene, quote you a low number, and then tack on added charges you aren't aware of.

"How would I know, I'm the consumer? But obviously, for that type of work, who would think it would be that much money?" Sheehan said.

So how can you avoid becoming another victim?

First, Wade says, prepare for the inevitability that you might lose your key.

"A lot of people don't think about this but I think it's a good idea to get the name of a reliable, reputable locksmith and maybe put the information in your cell phone," Wade said.

If you haven't done that, ask for information when you call. Avoid ones with generic names like "locksmith services" and ask for the company's legal name and license information.

"Any company that's not willing to give their legal name, I'd be very wary of," Wade said.

Finally, get a written estimate before any work is done and demand they explain any unlisted charges up front

"I spent more time filling out the credit card info than he did actually doing any work here," Sheehan said.

In the state of New Jersey, all locksmiths are required to carry proof of licensure and in most other places, they should be able to prove they are certified.

If you need help finding a reputable locksmith, here are a few ways to find one:

Greater Philadelphia Locksmiths Assoc.
http://gpla.org/

Keys to hiring a reputable locksmith http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt032.shtm

Associated Locksmiths of America
http://www.aloa.org/index.php


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