While you can certainly find a reputable service provider if you know how and where to look, there are plenty of bad apples out there that make the search murky. Unfortunately, the need to weed out scammers is especially prevalent in the locksmith industry. In fact, according to the Consumer Federation of America, locksmith scams are some of the most frequently reported complaints.
If you come across a “bargain” locksmith offer that seems to good to be true, chances are it is. “It is impossible for any reputable locksmith to charge only $10 or $20 per picked lock and remain in business,” as discussed in an article featured on Redfin, a popular online real estate broker. Legitimate 24-hour locksmiths must set their prices based on several unavoidable expenses that come with the territory, including on-demand transportation to and from your location and the cost of supplies.
Scammers work by targeting and attempting to victimize people who are caught in a pinch, such as those who are locked out of their home, car, or office. But you don’t need to fall for these moves! Read on to learn how to navigate the locksmith market while avoiding scams, protecting yourself and your property, and getting the job done right.
1. Vet and pre-select your locksmith ahead of time
Do your research before an emergency situation arises (for example, when you’re locked out late at night and just want to get inside to sleep). When you’re in a jam, emotions can run high, and panic or urgency can lead you to relax your guard and lower your standards to get the job done as soon as possible despite potential consequences. Know who you’d call if locked out well in advance, and keep a reputable local locksmith contact programmed in your phone.
2. Know the red flags
Remain especially vigilant when using a search engine to locate a 24-hour locksmith, as scammers have a reputation for dominating the paid advertisements that appear at the top of some search engines (such as AdWords in Google). Some of these so-called businesses may not even be local; instead they are monopolizing searches to fish for victims.
Be wary of any locksmith company that uses an 800 number rather than one with a local area code, and avoid working with those that identify themselves with generic names such as “locksmith services.”
Common scams to watch for include the bait-and-switch, in which scammers charge significantly more once they have secured your business by promising unrealistically low prices; cash-only policies, which allow scammers to prevent credit or debit card charge disputes; identity theft; and fraudulent “locksmiths” who insist on removing the current lock system or door handle and replacing it with an overpriced new one. Legitimate, skilled locksmiths should be able to unlock most locks.
3. Read reviews
Don’t skip this important part of the vetting process. Before you dial any potential locksmiths, browse real-life feedback via online verification, rating, and review platforms such as Yelp, Google reviews, Angie’s List, and Better Business Bureau. If you are using Google for your search, look for a new feature called Google Guarantee, which labels background-checked and insured providers with a green check-mark badge. Note: this is different than AdWords, which marks paid advertisements with a green “Ad” label and has a history of being more prone to scammers.
4. Don’t hesitate to ask questions
Reputable locksmith businesses should be able to answer the following questions (along with most others you might have before ordering the job):
- Location (search it to confirm there is a business at that address)
- Quote (make sure it matches anything you may have seen them advertise online)
- Accepted payment methods (steer clear of cash-only)
- Name of the locksmith that will be coming
- Any additional charges (such as after-hours premiums, mileage, etc.)
- Written records (a quote in writing and a receipt after you pay)
5. Report scammers and spread the word
If you do encounter a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission online. You may also want to spread the word in your personal circle (such as a social media post) and write a review online. Together, we stand a better chance of reducing the number of locksmith scammers out there and supporting high-quality local services.