Lock steps: Scams can be a challenge for both consumers and locksmiths

When you need a locksmith, you might go online to find one. But be careful you don’t get duped by a scam, which harms consumers and damages the reputations and bottom lines of legitimate tradespeople.

Here is how the scams generally work: Scammers create phony online locksmith ads to attract real calls. The ads typically tout a low-price service call—for example, $15 or $19. The address they use may be fake or belong to another business or location. When you call, you are connected to a call center that dispatches unqualified workers. When a worker shows up, they say the job will cost much more than the estimate you were quoted and want you to pay in cash.

Costco member and locksmith Troy Pourmoghadam says, “People have spent $1200 on $100 worth of locks because they don’t know any better.” He says that variations of both his business and domain name were used online to trick consumers. James Steffen, general manager of East Cooper Lock & Safe, says the business was the victim of a phone scam targeting local clients—the company’s name was linked to a crook’s phone number in a false online ad. Locksmith and Costco member Willie Gamble adds that scammers have stolen his business name and information as well.

To avoid online locksmith scams, it’s best to find a locksmith before you need one. Depending on where you live, ask people you know and trust—your neighbors, friends or family—for a referral. If you live in a condo or apartment building, check with the building owner or management for a contact. Both the Associated Locksmiths of America(ALOA) and the Society of Professional Locksmithscertify locksmiths and provide a member search tool online.

When it comes to your vehicle, make sure you have a roadside assistance plan for lockouts. You have different options when it comes to roadside assistance, and what you choose depends on your personal situation. Roadside assistance could be included with a leased or purchased vehicle or offered as a technology feature, it may be offered as an add-on to your auto insurance policy, your credit card or cellphone company may provide options, or you can join an auto club or try an app that offers on-demand service.

Overall, compare costs and pay attention to terms and conditions, restrictions and exclusions. If you are not familiar with how a company vets the locksmiths it sends out, ask for more information.

Key online tips

  • Get details about a locksmith’s license, registration and insurance. ALOA’s website has information about state licensing on its “Legislation” page. You can also check with your state and local consumer protection office for information.
  • When the locksmith arrives, confirm a final price in writing on business letterhead before any work begins. Make sure to get a receipt on business letterhead that includes a description of parts, services and the locksmith’s address and phone number.
  • Pay with a credit card so you have a dispute option.
  • Call the police if a locksmith threatens or intimidates you.

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