Hiring a Locksmith

At some point, it happens to all of us. You pick up a grocery bag out of the trunk, shut the lid, and remember that you left the car keys on the floor by the spare tire. Or your son comes home and says the house key you gave him, complete with a tag that identifies your home, is missing from a locker at the high school swimming pool.

Getting a locksmith in the past was pretty simple: Look up “locksmith” in the local phone book, find a company that says “bonded” or “25 years of experience,” and simply call them up. Their reputation was based on word of mouth, and they would even publish their prices for the style of lock to be installed.

Not so today. The “local” locksmith found on an Internet website--complete with the name of your town in its advertisement--may turn out to be an out-of-state marketing company that simply forwards your name and address to an unknown contractor in your town whose only qualification is that he is willing to pay a commission to the call center. If you are not so lucky, the “locksmith” to whom your name was forwarded could be a novice who damages the door and jamb, or worse, installs the lock in a manner such that the door can easily be breached. Or, the locksmith may give you a quote over the telephone, stating that there is a $39 trip charge, a $20 labor fee, and a $25 dollar charge for the lock. After he comes to your door, the “locksmith” informs you there is a minimum $200 charge. In other cases, he might up-charge for “extra features” that should have been included in the original bid: items such security strike plates, long screws, saw resistant dead bolts, hardened anti-drill chips in the lock housing, or beveled casings.

Others might charge an exorbitant fee for extras such as key control. Key control is a freeze the manufacturer of a lock puts on the key, informing retail or hardware stores that the key may not be duplicated. By up-charging from the promotional charge given over the phone, a locksmith may triple the cost of a lock to a consumer.

While there is no regulation of locksmiths at the state level in Minnesota, some municipalities require that a locksmith be certified before doing business in their community. To be certified, a locksmith takes a training program composed of four or five courses, such as installation of combination locks, servicing modern alarms, locksmith for autos, installation of high-security locks, and the operation of a key duplicating machine.

With minimal governmental oversight, remote marketing companies located in out-of-state or offshore call centers may deceive people with Internet advertisements that represent their company to be a local specialist who is experienced and trustworthy. This tactic can work, in part, because many people looking to hire a locksmith are placed in vulnerable positions and in need of immediate assistance.

In an effort to address such deceptive advertising, Minnesota law makes it unlawful for a business to use telephone directory listings, print advertisements, or Internet postings that deceptively represent the company as a local business.

Before hiring a locksmith, consider the following:

  1. Ask your friends and family for recommended locksmiths before an emergency arises. Keep the name with other home repair specialists so that, when an emergency does arise, you have the name of a trusted specialist in the community.
  2. Confirm that the locksmith is insured to cover damage that may result from the repair.
  3. Ask for price estimates before requesting any service. When it comes to cars, the locksmith should be able to give an exact quote based on year, make and model of your vehicle. The estimate should include a total cost for all work, additional fees, and replacement parts. As it relates to home security, advise the locksmith of the type of lock system you have and ask for the cost of security features such as saw resistant bolts, long screws, and reinforcements behind the jamb.
  4. After the service is finished, be sure to get an itemized receipt that includes the price of the service call, labor, and mileage.
  5. Be cautious with a locksmith who states that it will not provide an estimate until after the vehicle has been inspected.
  6. Never sign a blank work order.
  7. If you are locked out, be wary if you are told that the lock has to be drilled and replaced. Whether a car or home, a skilled and reputable locksmith will have the training necessary to unlock almost any door.
  8. Make competition work. Call and compare several different locksmiths before deciding whose service you will use.
  9. Determine the actual address of the locksmith to ensure reliability.
  10. Use caution when a company answers the phone with a general phrase, like “locksmith,” rather than identifying a certain business name. Ask for the name and location of the business. Do not use the company if the person refuses to give a name.
  11. Ask for identification when the locksmith arrives and verify whether the name is the same as the name on the bill and/or the vehicle the locksmith uses.

If you have been the victim of a locksmith scam, you should report the matter to the municipal police department or the county sheriff’s office. They may have the authority to investigate and prosecute locksmith scams if they involve criminal damage to property or financial fraud.

Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353
TTY: (651) 297-7206
TTY: 1-800-366-4812

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