Locked out of your home or vehicle? Be careful who you contact!

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin recommends finding a trusty locksmith now, before you need one, to avoid being deceived or charged exorbitant rates when you find yourself in a pinch.

Locksmith scams have been on the rise for years, and many have to do with low ball telephone quotes for $25 that end up swelling to as much as $350 once the work is complete.

“If the onsite estimate doesn’t match the telephone estimate, don’t allow the job to be performed”, says Ran Hoth, CEO/President. “Do your homework. Know ahead of time who you’d call, should you ever have a need for this kind of service, and keep the number in your phone, wallet, and car.”

The problem is that the quoted price may not disclose all fees, and consumers complain to Better Business Bureau that they felt they were misled about the price they had to ultimately pay.  Unfortunately, most victims pay because they are at the mercy of the locksmith in order to get back into their car or home.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says locksmith companies may use similar names to raise their ranking or prominence in directories and search engines, and cautions consumers to be wary of locksmiths that respond to calls with generic phrases such as "locksmith services" rather than a business name.

Often times, a business advertising as being “local”, is really located out of state and is operating long-distance. Some who claim to be a “local locksmith” have multiple listings with different names, but the calls to each of these numbers go back to the same central number in a distant city where operators dispatch untrained individuals to do the job, according to the FTC.

Better Business Bureau recommends these eight tips when hiring a locksmith:

Critique their advertising - Look closely at the business' advertisements.  Is the specific name of the business clearly identified?  Does the ad look similar to other ads but have a different name?  Does it appear that the dealer actually operates under several names? If a company answers the phone with a generic phrase like “locksmith services” rather than a company-specific name, be wary. Ask for the legal name of the business. If the person refuses, call another locksmith.

Check their reputation - Keep the telephone number of a reputable locksmith on hand before an emergency.  Visit www.bbb.org to verify a locksmith's reputation and any complaint pattern or customer reviews, or select one from a list of BBB Accredited Businesses. Look for the BBB Seal. BBB Accredited Businesses have been thoroughly researched and agree to the BBBs Code of Ethics and eight Standards for Trust.

Ask questions - Most consumer complaints concern fees that were not disclosed when they called the locksmith.  Ask about the cost of a service call, mileage and parts before you agree to have the work performed.  Get an estimate before any work begins, including emergency service.  If the on-site estimate doesn't match the price quoted on the telephone, have the job done by someone else.

Check identification - Most legitimate locksmiths will arrive in a clearly marked vehicle and provide identification.  Remember that you would be allowing a stranger into your home. Be sure to ask for a business card.

Does the lock have to be damaged? - Be wary of a locksmith who insists on drilling the lock to open it, since most locksmiths have the skills to open almost any lock.

Demand an invoice - You can't dispute a charge without proof of how much you paid and what you paid for.  Insist on an itemized invoice that includes parts, labor, mileage and service charges.  The invoice should also include the business name and address.

Find out about insurance - Ask if the locksmith is insured.  If your property becomes damaged during a repair, insurance is important to cover your losses.

Use a safe payment method - Use your credit card to pay for locksmith services for added security.  Credit cards carry the most protection should you need to dispute the charge later.

If you have a complaint against a locksmith or any other professional or business, file a complaint at www.bbb.org.

For an online version of the story click here

Do you know an ethical, outstanding organization? Nominate them for a BBB Torch Award for Ethics!

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin or 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 920-734-4352 (Appleton), 608-268-2221 (Madison) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin).