BBB Warns Consumers About Unscrupulous Locksmiths

Created: 01/05/2013 7:54 PM KSTP.com By: Mark Saxenmeyer

Wintertime is NOT the time to find yourself locked out of your car or home. But the Better Business Bureau is warning Twin Cities residents to be aware of locksmiths who are over-charging customers.

The BBB says about 75 percent of the complaints filed against locksmiths in Minnesota are never resolved satisfactorily. And the majority of the complaints involve situations where consumers say they were quoted one price over the phone, only to be handed an entirely different bill when the job was done.

"A ripoff," said Tim Solberg, a north Minneapolis resident. That's how he describes "A Local Locksmith," the service his wife called when she locked herself out of their home recently. "They came quickly, did the job quickly, and charged her $309.

Solberg says he tried contacting management for weeks and got nothing but the run-around. Then he decided to head on down to the three addresses the company listed on its website. "But none of them had any locksmith business there. All three were bogus."

"We do get complaints regularly," said the BBB's Dan Hendrickson, of locksmith companies in general. He says when consumers first call a locksmith, they should ask to have an estimate emailed to them before any work begins. "Never just sign a work authorization saying 'yeah, do what you have to do'," he explained.

Other tips:

--Before you start Googling random locksmiths for help, call the BBB or go on their website (www.bbb.org) to find a list of accredited locksmiths in good standing.

--You can also check with the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA), an organization that abides by a code of ethics and insists on certain training standards requirements (www.mnaloa.org).

--Avoid locksmiths with 800 numbers.Chances are good the company is based in another state.

--Always ask the locksmiths for a worst case scenario, meaning before you ask them to come out, ask them what their highest possible price might be, given your situation.

--Ask for an ID and a business card when the locksmith arrives

The BBB also cites other examples of locksmith problems. In one recent complaint the BBB received, against "St. Paul Locksmith Service Inc.," it alleges the consumer was quoted a price of $45 to unlock his car. When the locksmith arrived, the complaint claims the employee instead asked for $150, claiming the job would take "extra work and special tools because the car had electric locks." The complainant then says the locksmith went on to use "standard tools" to open the car in just five minutes.

"They make the real legitimate small local locksmiths look bad," Solberg said.

"Unfortunately there are a handful of bad apples who are out there, out there only for their own interests, and doing their best to maximize their profits, unfortunately, in some cases," Hendrickson said.

Attempts on Saturday by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS to reach both "A Local Lockmith' and "St. Paul Locksmith Service Inc. for comment were unsuccessful.

 Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at msaxenmeyer@kstp.com