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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 the Internet website—perhaps even using the name of your town or city in its advertisement--may be an out-of-state company that forwards your name and address to a contractor in your town. If you are not so lucky, the “locksmith” 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.

While Minnesota law does not require locksmiths to be licensed or bonded, some municipalities require that a locksmith be certified before doing business in a community. To be certified, a locksmith must take 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.

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 contractors so that, if an emergency does arise, you have the name of a trusted specialist.
  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 a 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, get an itemized receipt that includes the price of the service call, labor, and mileage.
  5. Be cautious with a company that 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. Use caution when a company answers the phone with a general phrase, like “locksmith,” rather than identifying an actual business name. Ask for the name and location of the business. Do not use the company if the person refuses to give a name or location.
  10. 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 believe that a locksmith has violated a local ordinance, you should report the matter to your municipal government.

If you believe a locksmith has violated the criminal laws, you should report the matter to your local police department or 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.

If you need additional assistance or wish to report problematic conduct, please contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission.

Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353
1-800-657-3787
TTY: (651) 297-7206
TTY: 1-800-366-4812

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20580
Toll free: 1-877-382-4357
www.consumer.ftc.gov

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