Imagine, for a moment, this happening to you.
It’s late at night. It’s cold and rainy. You’re locked out of your home or car, so you pull out your phone and type “locksmith companies” into Google. Up pops a list of names; many of them in spaces reserved for local service companies.
You might assume that the space reserved for local service companies are all companies near you and have earned ranking based on good customer reviews. Some will fit that description. But odds are a lot of the rankings you see for locksmiths aren’t locksmiths at all.
Instead, they are call centers. They may be out of state or even out of the country. But they are using a high-tech strategy that lets them trick Google into thinking they have a physical store in your neighborhood.
What’s worse, they might not even be locksmiths at all. Instead, they may be poorly trained subcontractors who are buying up leads in hopes of making a little extra money on the side.
And that’s where your trouble begins.
The goal of these lead generation companies is to gain as much money as possible from every customer who comes their way. They might quote you a price over the phone only to have the subcontractor demand three, even four times that amount once they’re on site. And because you’re tired, cold, and possibly even scared, you’re eager to pay the fee and resume life and get back into your car or home.
This is a classic bait-and-switch move. And it has become quite an epidemic across America. While these subcontracting scams have deep roots in locksmithing, the model is moved far and wide to all types of consumer home services, including home security, repair services, and of course, locksmithing.
Unfortunately, the bait-and-switch move isn’t the only scam you might find in the locksmith industry.
Ghost Location Scam
The ghost location scam is a continuation of the one we mentioned above. When you search for a high-quality locksmith company, you select one based on the internet results you find online. You choose one that looks promising, has a physical address in your community, possibly even has photographs of the location for you to see. They have reviews—everything looks like it’s on the up and up. When it comes time to have the services rendered, they send someone out to your location.
But the danger is the follow-up. If you have a problem with your service and you try and connect with them once again, there is no way for you to locate the contractor you’ve just done business with.
Emergency Services Scam
This is less of a scam and more of a contractor taking advantage of your vulnerability. When you call a locksmith, and the person arrives, they know you’re in a desperate situation. And in this case, knows they can charge whatever they desire and you’re likely to pay.
They can hike the price up two, three, even four times the normal fee based on the concept that it’s an emergency situation. The worst part about this scam is people are very likely not to think twice and rarely complain. Their emergency situation was solved, and they’re happy to be back in the car or home safe and secure.
You may be considering a lot of different alternatives at the moment to ensure you never face this situation. But emergencies arise all the time. And instead of believing that the entire industry is rife with scammers, we’d like to give you a little advice on finding reputable locksmiths that care about the services they bring to people within your community.
Yes, reputable locksmith companies do exist. And here is how you find them.
Check for a license
Only fifteen states require a commercial locksmith to obtain a state-issued license. Oregon is one of them. Washington state is not. If you live in a state where a state-issued license is required, you can request to see the license before you start doing business with the contractor.
Even in a state that doesn’t require licensing, you can request to see what licenses and other criteria they have for doing business in your community. You can also ask for an additional form of state-issued identification to keep a record of who you are doing business with.
Demand an Estimate
Regardless of the cost you have been quoted over the phone, you should also receive an on-site cost estimate once the contractor arrives. This is particularly important before allowing a locksmith to begin working on your auto or home.
This is your biggest defense in avoiding the bait and switch scam. If you have a quote that is very low, this will ensure you have written quotes showing you how much they will charge. This will also give you justification to fight the charge if they attempt to raise it after they begin work.
Pay by Credit Card
One of the biggest problems with traveling services is they show up and disappear without leaving a trace of where they came from or went to. If you pay by cash—and many of them will ask you to do so—you have no resource for the transaction.
But if you pay by credit card, it creates a digital footprint that involves your credit card company as a third-party. This can help you track down your locksmith company if you need to in the future.
Look for Certifications and Trade Organizations
Reputable locksmiths care about their business and will become certified through reputable organizations to build credibility within the industry. Look for companies that are certified and go the extra mile to ensure their technicians are well educated and offer you the highest quality service.
Look for certification through organizations like Associated Locksmiths of America, Safe and Vault Technicians Association, and the American Association of Automatic Door
Manufacturers. You can also look for locksmiths who join local contractors associations and the Better Business Bureau.
When you call on a locksmith, you might be tired, cold, even a little scared. But don’t let yourself be vulnerable in this situation.
Not only should you ask for a receipt, but you should jot down the information you gain throughout this process. Be sure you have the company’s name and the technician who helped you out. Get license numbers and phone numbers. The license plate number is also a good number to verify and put into your notes. Then, in case the unthinkable happens and you suspect you were scammed, you’ll have more information to help you move forward.
Since 1949, Harry’s Locksmith has been helping residents and business owners throughout Southwest Washington and the Greater Portland area. If we can help you, give us a call today.