Here’s an obvious statement – a locksmith should be heavily vetted before hiring them.  It’s obvious because locksmiths can get into places that most people cannot, and that’s the kind of power that should be used responsibly. But even with the fairly high stakes involved, people regularly fall for locksmiths that are only looking to scam someone.  With a few well-placed questions and some knowledge of how the industry works, though, such a nightmare situation can be avoided.

Know What a Scam Looks Like

There are several telltale signs of a scam, and reputable professionals work hard to avoid these tendencies.  For example, the following should be considered red flags:

  1. Any over the phone estimate that seems very low.  Scammers work by casting a large net and hoping they can get someone to bite on an unrealistically low estimate.  These estimates are always given over the phone – never in person – and are usually nonspecific.  Whoever is representing the business over the phone may not be able to answer detailed questions about what fees are part of the estimate.  If they cannot, it’s likely a fake estimate.
  2. There is no firm information about the business.  It seems crazy, but there are some scammers that don’t even bother putting together an official name for their “business.”  When pressed, they may just offer a generic sounding name that can’t be verified anywhere online.  There may be no website associated with the “business,” and there may be no contact info to be found.  These are extremely bad signs and any such “business” should be avoided.
  3. The locksmith produces a larger estimate or demands cash.  This is how the scam is executed.  The phone estimate is alluringly low, and the locksmith’s estimate is unfairly high.  But when people are trapped out of their car or home, they may relent and pay the demanded price.  That is what the scammer wants.  And because these scammers don’t have a reputable business backing them, they need to be paid in cash.  Don’t give in to either, because this is likely a criminal who is breaking through the lock.
  4. The locksmith needs to drill or replace the lock with a “high security” version.  Certified locksmiths are capable of defeating almost all conventional door and vehicle locks, so when they claim to need to drill into one, this should be regarded with skepticism.  Occasionally it is necessary, but only when the lock is badly damaged.  Also, scammers may offer to replace a conventional lock with a “high security” lock, and charge a lot of money for the service.  In the vast majority of cases, though, these high security locks are just cheap imitations of reputable lock brands, and will not provide adequate security.  Look for a quality lock brand like Medeco, Mult-T-Lock, Abloy, Evva or Yale, as they don’t produce shabby locks.

Know How to Identify a Reputable Locksmith

It’s easy enough to avoid a scam, but even locksmiths that aren’t setting an obvious trap may still be looking to gouge a desperate customer.  Fortunately, there are useful methods in spotting reputable locksmiths as well.  Some of those methods include:

  1. Asking the locksmith for identification. Locksmiths are required to provide identification when asked.  This identification is commonly referred to as a Pocket Card.  It is illegal in Texas to provide locksmith services without this card, and it should be considered essential before hiring a professional.
  2. Asking the locksmith for a written estimate.  This may seem like a mere formality, but many scams can be avoided if the locksmith is forced to provide a written estimate that requires signed authorization.  An estimate should include all of the fees for service and parts, and if there is any discrepancy between the written estimate and the phone estimate, move on to someone else.

In general, it’s better to contact a local lock shop than just hiring an individual, as a lock shop has a reputation to protect in their area.  And once a reputable shop has been located, it’s a good idea to record their number, in case of an emergency later.

There are few things more frustrating than getting locked out of vehicle or home, but even when dealing with such frustration, it’s essential that people keep their heads. Otherwise, they may get taken in by a scammer.