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Don't Let Locksmiths Leave You Out in the Texas Heat

Listings and ads from bogus locksmiths could trap desperate consumers.
MIDLAND -- Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin advises consumers to be cautious when hiring a locksmith. Nationally, BBB received 1,066 complaints against the industry in 2013. However, a BBB investigator found that the real number of consumers hurt by disreputable locksmith businesses is likely much higher, because of the difficulty in tracking down rogue locksmiths.

Consumers often report finding low prices online or being quoted a low price over the phone—in the $15 to $30 range—and being told to pay hundreds of dollars at the time of service. Customers often reported they paid the higher price anyway because of the situations they were in or because they felt threatened.
Problems in the industry are nationwide, according to the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA), which warns search engines and other media are being dominated by listings from fake locksmiths that deceive the public and threaten legitimate locksmiths’ livelihood.

The following is a breakdown of issues uncovered during an investigation that spanned several months:
Deceptive pricing: The complaint most commonly reported by consumers involves deceptive pricing. Consumers report finding low prices online or being quoted a low price over the phone. Consumers often expect to pay a fee in the $15 to $30 range, but end up paying well over $100 and sometimes hundreds of dollars at the time of service.

Unlicensed locksmiths: Locksmiths in Texas are required to have a license from the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS), but this is sometimes difficult to verify. Locksmiths often do not state their license number on their websites and sometimes refuse to give the number over the phone.
Evasion and conflicting information: During BBB’s investigation, those answering the phone often refused to give a company name or would answer “yes” to any company name the investigator suggested. If asked for a TxDPS license number, the dispatcher would often hang up or claim no authority to give the information and promise a return call that never happened.

Consumers often report receiving an invoice with different addresses, phone numbers or information than that of the service they originally tried to get in touch with. Consumers have also reported being asked to sign blank invoices.

Fake addresses: Disreputable locksmiths often use multiple company names and addresses in order to make consumers who search online believe they are dealing with a local business. In reality, the person answering the phone may be located in another state.

Damage to property: Consumers also filed complaints with BBB alleging the company damaged their vehicle or residence. Although a trained locksmith should be able to open a lock without causing damage, complaints referring to residential calls state that the technician drills out locks—then makes the consumer pay for new locks.

Damage to reputable locksmiths. According to the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA), bogus locksmiths are damaging reputable businesses by:
· Redirecting business from legitimate locksmiths to themselves.
· Using stolen license numbers in their advertising that belong to other locksmiths.
· Dominating the Internet with false listings, making it difficult for consumers to find local, licensed locksmiths.
BBB recommends consumers follow this advice when hiring a locksmith:
· Find a company before you need it. The worst time to research a locksmith is when you’re locked out of your house or car. Get recommendations from friends and check the company’s BBB Business Review and license information. Then save the number in your phone in case of emergency.
· Know where to turn. If you find yourself locked out of your car or home and don’t have a trusted locksmith’s phone number, check with bbb.org, even on your smartphone. If you are locked out of a car with your child inside, call the police immediately.
· Check licensing. Check the company’s licensing with the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS), as well as the individual locksmith’s license. Locksmiths are required to carry a copy of their license, issued by TxDPS. Even if you have researched the company beforehand, ask to see the individual’s license when he or she arrives.
· Know the price before agreeing to the work. Though locksmiths may not always know the extent of the job before they start, they should be able to provide a fairly accurate range based on the details you provide when you speak with them.
· Read the fine print. Be sure to read any contract thoroughly before signing. Check for additional fees that weren’t discussed and understand the terms of any guarantees. Ask what the company will do should the locksmith damage your property and make sure it is in writing.
· Don’t pay cash. A legitimate locksmith should be able to accept credit cards or checks.
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