Consumer Alert! Finding Your Locksmith has just become more difficult.

We recently heard from a consumer in Oak Park who had searched for our company on-line and thought she was calling us. Instead of us she reached someone who charged her over $400 for what should have been about a $125 job.

Turns out she found a website that is listing our business information. However, this site is not affiliated with us in any way. They do not have our permission to list our business. And they post a price list that is not ours. We have been told there is nothing we can do because everything they are printing about us is correct public information.

After researching this, we discovered at least one site that lists correct business information (address, phone number, hours, etc) for real locksmiths across the country. However, they put colorful buttons on the page next to the real locksmith's business listing. If you click on any of those buttons it takes you to a different company's page showing a different business name and phone number than the business you were trying to call. It also shows a very, very cheap price list. In the case listed above, the price charged the consumer was considerably more than those on that price list.

Here's how you can protect yourself:

  • Try to find someone in your area.
  • Click on the locksmith's website, be sure it belongs to the company you are looking for.
  • Ask your neighbors for recommendations
  • Read the reviews.
  • When you call:
    • Ask what the name of the business is. If it's not what you expected, hang up. (Do not accept “This is the locksmith” as a valid answer. Do not ask if this is “ABC Locksmith” because they will say Yes)
    • Ask for the company's locksmith license number and write it down.
    • Keep track of the phone number you called.

When any locksmith comes out to do work for you:

  • Always ask to see the locksmith license or employee ID and write down the License or PERC number. In the state of Illinois, locksmiths are REQUIRED to present this information if asked.
  • Always get a business card upon the service person's arrival.
  • Always confirm all charges when the locksmith arrives and sees the job. Write it down.
  • If anything doesn't feel right or they won't leave call the police.
  • In the state of Illinois, locksmiths are REQUIRED to provide a receipt with:
    • Company name
    • Illinois License Number

Do you think you are a victim of this consumer fraud? To file a complaint you will need to be sure who you called. Get a business card, make sure your receipt is itemized and has the company name, address and phone number on it.

You can file a complaint with your state's Attorney General's Office. (Illinois Attorney's General Office) In Illinois, you can also file a complaint with the Illinois Dept. of Finance and Professional Regulation. In Chicago you can also file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Agency.

Tips for finding a REAL locksmith (from Angie's List)

This is an excellent article from Angie's List on the continuing difficulty consumers are experiencing avoiding scammers poising as locksmiths. Finding a local locksmith before you need one remains the #1 recommendation.

In an emergency I would suggest:

  1. Write down who you called and the phone number.
  2. When calling, ask for an estimate that includes ALL THE CHARGES.
  3. When the technician arrives, get the technician's name.
  4. Confirm the price you were told on the phone.
  5. Ask if that is the total price and be clear on exactly what's included.

Do this before you let him touch your lock or door.  You don't want to be left without a lock on you door if you suspect it's a scam.

If you think you are being scammed call the police.

ABC Lookout Series Exposes Ghost Locksmiths

I have been writing articles since 2004 on the "ghost locksmiths".  Using thousands of addresses that do not belong to them, using many different names and phone numbers.  They appear to be on almost every corner in all metropolitan areas in the country.  Calls go to a national call dispatching center who forwards the information to subcontractors.

The really bad part of this is the "ghost locksmith" who shows up is usually poorly trained, and charges rates much higher than you were told it would cost. You are not advised of the increase until he presents his bill. Want to know more? This expose'  has the whole story. Parts of it even I didn't know. ANC NightLine Expose

Remember, look for a legitimate locksmith before you need one and put it on your phone. Better yet get spare keys made and placed in a secure place or with others who can run over with the key

A careful consumer is the scammer's worst nightmare.  Check and verify!  Advertising and searches can provide false or misleading information.  Check addresses and visit business locations listed.  Call the "local" phone number and beware if they answer with a generic name (not telling their real name for a reason), ask for your zip code (a sign they are not local), or if they offer too-good-to-be-true pricing or response time.  Verify the identity of the locksmith on arrival and CONFIRM THE PRICE before they touch anything.

Waging war on shady locksmiths

John Kelly, columnist for the Washington Post, writes that Mark Baldino of Baldino's Lock & Key is spearheading an effort to get search engines to remove questionable locksmith listings.

Since 2004 we have seen the internet used by questionable companies, including locksmiths, to fool consumers. They are gaming the search engines with incorrect information and posting their own rave reviews. This causes thousands of listings to pop up on searches, many with business locations that do not exist. Phone calls are switched to call centers in various states. In many cases, consumers think they are contacting a local company. When they receive poor service or feel they are over-charged, trying to physically find the company becomes a problem.

Real locksmiths are trying to convince the search engines to clean up their listings and provide quality search information to their users. Mark Baldino, the locksmith in the Washington Post story is making some headway.

In the meantime, Buyer Beware. Illinois requires all locksmiths to be licensed. Ask questions to identify the locksmith. Write down the name, address, phone and license number. Ask for the complete price and confirm that price in writing before allowing the locksmith to do any work. If you think you are being scammed, don't be afraid to call the police. The Il. Attorney General and the Il. Dept. of Professional Regulation have prosecuted scammers claiming to be locksmiths.

You should never, ever be asked to go to a cash machine with the locksmith. Real locksmiths take credit cards. If you have a problem, you can call the credit card company to reverse the charge (not on debit cards).

This is a growing problem and will probably move into other service industries. Consumers with an emergency situation are less likely to question or shop around. That is why the locksmith industry was a logical place for the scammers to start their deceptive practices. I've heard they have branched out into carpet cleaning, housekeeping, furnace and duct cleaning. Buyers Beware!