You stopped on the way home to grab a gallon of milk. You get to the car and pull the handle but the door remains stubbornly closed. You fish in your pocket for keys while your mind is still processing the fact that they’re sitting on the driver’s seat. You’d call your wife but she’s still at work all the way across town. Grudingly you pull out your phone and search “locksmith near me”. This probably isn’t you, but this is how a lot of people choose a locksmith.
Choosing a locksmith is hard. Choosing a locksmith when you have been locked out of your house or car is even harder. You’re probably searching from you phone, and you’re probably in a hurry. Google “locksmith near me” and your are almost guaranteed to see dozens of ads for
questionable completely bogus locksmiths, but how do you know? How do you choose a locksmith without falling for a scammer? I recently listened to a podcast that, surprisingly, addressed the world of locksmith scammers and I decided to address this very question.
I also want to point out that this post is primarily geared toward those times that you have to pick a locksmith in a hurry. If you have the luxury of time, shop around a little bit. Find the one that serves your needs best. When you are in a rush – during a lockout – is when you are most likely to get caught up in a scam.
Before we get into how to choose a locksmith, let’s talk about how scammers work. First, they set up an 800 number and buy a bunch of Google ads. When you search “locksmith near me” or “locksmith portland or” these ads show up at the top of the page. The 800 number goes to a centralized call center that could be thousands of miles away but pretends to be in your area. The call center tells you a locksmith is on his way for the low, low price of $15. In reality, the call center has a “locksmith” on call who is minimally trained. He or she will almost certainly upcharge you (by a HUGE amount) by drilling your lock and selling you a new one.
This is bad for the customer, who shouldn’t have paid $200 for a simple lockout. It is also bad for legitimate locksmiths. They lose business because of this, and it makes the locksmithing profession look shady. I happen to know quite a few locksmiths, and they are generally a honest, hard-working lot that will charge you a fair price for services rendered. To find one of these honest individuals, take a look at the tips below.
How to Choose a Locksmith
Like I said in the opening statement of this post, choosing a locksmith is hard. I don’t have a hard and fast answer for guaranteeing a locksmith is legit – at least when searching only through the internet. But I’ll give you some ideas.
- Ignore the Ads: When you do a Google search for “locksmith near me” (or “locksmith Seattle” or whatever), there is a good chance you will get some ads. These ads look a lot like normal search results, with a minor exception. Ads will be annotated with a green “Ad”. Do not click on these. Though some may be legit, scroll down to the real search results
- Physical Shop/Showroom: If a locksmith has a storefront and/or showroom, they chances that the business is legit is almost 100%. Visiting the shop is the best way to get acquainted, but even driving by and verifying its existence is probably enough for you to know you’re dealing with a legitimate shop. The existence of a physical storefront might be hard to tell from a website. Look for indicators like photos of the shop. If you have time, you can always do a Google Streetview drive-by, too. If it’s a gas station with eighteen locksmith business registered there, it’s probably phony.
- State Licensure: This is the gold standard but if – and ONLY if – your state requires locksmiths to be licensed. The following states are the only ones that require a state licensure to advertise services as a locksmith: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. A state-licensed locksmith should be happy to present his or her credentials to you upon request.
- ALOA Membership: The Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) is a respected, national organization of locksmiths. ALOA oversees training and certification of locksmiths, as well as operating a member directory. This is a good indicator that the locksmith is legitimate, although not a 100% guarantee. What it at least guarantees is that the locksmith in question has had a background check prior to being admitted as a member. Seeing the ALOA logo on a website is not enough to fully verify ALOA membership! Plenty of scammers have caught on and are simply pasting the logo onto their website. Instead, go HERE and search the locksmith’s name and company.
- Realistic Pricing: If you are calling a company offering lockout services for under $50, they are almost certainly a scam. Locksmiths have a huge amount of overhead (shop, vehicles, inventory, etc.), and time is money. While the ‘smitty may only be at your front door for 20 minutes, he or she also spent 20 minutes getting to you, and will spend 20 more getting back to the shop or to the next job. The average cost for a simple lockout call is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 to $125, though prices will vary depending on your location.
- Real Website: This is probably the least reliable indicator, but I look for things like: does a website even exist (this seems obvious, but many of the Google ads just have a phone number – not an actual website)? Are the photos of a showroom or photos of the owner? Is there a list of manufacturers for whom the locksmith is a dealer? Is the dealer a high-security dealer (Abloy, ASSA, Medeco, Mul-T-Lock, etc.)? It takes a fairly rigorous vetting process to become a high-security dealer, and this will give me a decent degree of confidence. Has the website been personalized?
The BEST Way to Choose a Locksmith
Of course the best defense is a good offense and the suggestions above are just rules of thumb. Locating a locksmith from your phone under the stress of being locked out, in a hurry, etc. is not a recipe for success. Here’s what I really recommend: track down a real, local locksmith now, before you are locked out. Visit the shop. If you don’t like the people working there, go to another. When you settle on one, put the number in your contacts. When you’re locked out or your deadbolt stops functioning you won’t have to choose a locksmith in the heat of the moment. A little bit of planning goes a long way.