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Consumer Advice: How to hire a locksmith without being ripped off

Updated on September 25, 2012

If you're like most people, you will not think about a locksmith until you need one.

...So if you get caught in a situation like locking your keys in your car, you might just grab your phone and do an Internet search for locksmith. Unfortunately, that is probably the worst possible way to find a reputable locksmith.

In his Rip-Off Alert about locksmiths, Atlanta-based consumer watchdog Clark Howard shared that many that rank high in the search engines may be phony, and at the very least they may be able to do the job, but they will charge you substantially more than the job should cost. But you need the locksmith right now and if you haven't hired a locksmith before, you won't know what the average fee is for his work in order to compare. Many consumers are taken in by the "bait and switch" tactic -- a locksmith may advertise a low price, but once your lock is changed or fixed, the rate has suddenly gone through the roof.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, agrees with consumer advocate Clark Howard, saying "Some locksmiths advertising in your local telephone book may not be local at all. They may not have professional training. What's more, some of them may use intimidating tactics and overcharge you."

So how can you be sure you are hiring an honest locksmith?

Shockingly, only nine U.S. states require locksmiths to be licensed, according to the FTC: Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

"If you are in an emergency situation, go to Yelp.com and look for locksmiths with multiple reviews." Advises consumer advocate Clark Howard. "If you're a business, it's even better to develop a relationship with a locksmith you know and trust before you're in a desperate situation."

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Clark Howard agree that you should find a reputable locksmith before you are stuck in an emergency situation. Here are some top tips from the FTC to help yourself find a good locksmith:

If you're locked out of your car - Check with roadside assistance you may already have with your auto insurance carrier. "Roadside assistance plans often have a list of pre-approved companies to perform services like unlocking cars, jump-starting batteries, changing flat tires, delivering gasoline, and towing," says the FTC.

Important things to know when you hire a locksmith

  1. Call family and friends for recommendations.
  2. Double-check that the business is real - "If you find a locksmith in the phone book, on the Internet, or through directory assistance, and a business address is given, confirm that the address belongs to that locksmith. Some disreputable companies list street addresses to give the impression that they're local. But the addresses may belong to other businesses or vacant lots, if they exist at all. "
  3. Keep a list - "Write down the names of several businesses, their phone numbers, and addresses for future reference, in case you don't want to go with the first locksmith you call."
  4. Be wary if the company answers the phone with a generic phrase like "Locksmith Services" instead of company name. Ask them the legal name of the business. If this seems to make them uncomfortable or they refuse to tell you, hang up.
  5. Get an estimate for all the work and the cost of replacement parts from the locksmith before you let them begin work.
  6. Ask about additional fees before you allow the locksmith to perform work. It is normal for them to charge you more for a service call in the middle of the night. Ask about additional charges for mileage or if there is a minimum service fee for a service call.
  7. Ask the locksmith again about the price when he arrives. If it doesn't agree with the estimate you were already given on the phone, don't let them do the work.
  8. Never sign a blank form or contract to authorize locksmith work.
  9. Verify that the locksmith is insured.
  10. When the locksmith arrives, ask for ID and a business card.
  11. Be prepared for the locksmith to as YOU for identification as well. This is actually a good sign, as a good locksmith will want to make sure you are the property owner before he does the work.
  12. For quick or emergency locksmith work, a locksmith may arrive in a car, but most will arrive in a vehicle that is clearly marked with the business name.
  13. Be cautious if you're told that the lock has to be drilled out and replaced. Good legitimate locksmiths can unlock almost any door and would not need to drill the lock out of the door.
  14. When work is done, you should get an itemized invoice.

Finally, advises the FTC, "You must be able to trust your locksmith. You don't want to give access to the locks for your home, car, or place of business to just anyone."

I hope this information will help you make an informed choice and be prepared for the next time you need to hire a locksmith.

Copyright Darla Dixon 2012

Are you a locksmith? Are you a consumer who has been ripped off by a locksmith? (Feel free to share your nightmare stories -- maybe it will help someone else make a wise consumer decision.)

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    • TapIn2U profile image

      TapIn2U 5 years ago

      I love the lens title. Very direct to the point. Good advice you have here. Fantastic lens! Sundae ;-)