You've locked yourself out of your car or your home, so you call a locksmith, perhaps the one you find in a phone book or online. But don't be so quick. In what has been dubbed the locksmith scam, some unscrupulous locksmiths promise low prices by phone and then jack up the cost when they arrive.
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The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs and the Better Business Bureau earlier this year warned about the scam, which has been going on for years but is showing signs of becoming more prevalent.
In some instances, the companies advertising these locksmith services go by names similar to those of local companies and use local phone numbers and bogus addresses. But the calls actually go to call centers in another city, warns the Federal Trade Commission. The locksmith, who might be poorly trained, sometimes arrives in an unmarked vehicle and demands significantly more than the price quoted over the phone. Payment often must be made in cash. Frustrated consumers, eager to get into their homes or cars, often end up paying anyway.
What to do
Be prepared. One option is to find a legitimate local locksmith in advance and keep the company's contact information with you. For your car, an alternative is to get a roadside-assistance plan that provides lockout service. (If you have a plan, find out whether it already provides the service.) Of course, it's also a good idea to give spare sets of keys to a trusted family member, friend, or neighbor who lives nearby. We don't recommend hiding keys outside your home or car.
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Check out the company's reputation. Before calling a locksmith, look for complaints by visiting the Better Business Bureau and by using a web search with the company name and such words as "complaints" and "reviews." If you're researching a locksmith for use in a future emergency, also check for complaints with the state or local consumer-protection agency.
Use your judgment. Be suspicious if the locksmith arrives in an unmarked vehicle or won't provide identification or a business card. Don't be afraid to send the locksmith away if something seems wrong. And don't be intimidated into using the service.
Pay with a credit card. When arranging service, verify that the company takes credit cards. If you pay using your card and there are shenanigans, you can dispute the charge with your card issuer. Also, get a receipt. Never use cash.
File a complaint. If you feel there was wrongdoing, complain to your state attorney general or consumer-protection agency and the Better Business Bureau.
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