You Should Not Be Paying $175 To Get Your Car Door Unlocked

While there are plenty of honest locksmiths ready to help you out when you lock your keys in your car, there are enough bait-and-switch scammers out there that consumers need to be careful before selecting one. Otherwise, you could end up with someone trying to charge you hundreds of dollars for something that shouldn’t cost more than $100.

KOMO News reports on Seattle-area consumers who were quoted as little as $19 to have their car door unlocked, only to have their keys held hostage until they paid nearly six times that amount. One person was quoted $39.95 but ended up being charged $175.

And it’s not just cars. One woman was quoted $140 to have the five doors in her home re-keyed, only to end up being presented a bill for $280.

We’ve been writing about scammy locksmiths for years, but judging by the tales of woe in the KOMO story, it’s still happening all too often.

Thus, once again, here are tips to help you avoid getting taken by less-than-legit locksmiths:

* Find a local locksmith before you need one. Talk to friends, if only to eliminate the names of definite scammers. Even if you’re not an AAA member, the organization will still help refer you to a reputable locksmith. You won’t get the AAA member discount, but you’ll know that the person who shows up is not just trying to unlock your bank account.

* Once you have a locksmith, be sure to keep their name and number in your cellphone. If you use an online contact list, you should add the locksmith’s name to that list. That way, if you are without your phone, you can just log on from another person’s phone or computer to get the information.

* In addition to the estimate before the locksmith comes out, get a price confirmation before work begins. If the locksmith will not give you a definite number or raises the estimate significantly, send them home.

* If you have no other choice but think you will need to dispute the bill, pay with credit card — not debit card — and issue a charge-back immediately.

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  1. bikeoid says:

    If you dispute a credit charge from a scammer, prepare to be sent to collections.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      Just check the mail daily and deal with the collections when they come. No collection agency is going to get sued over a couple hundred dollars… But if you don’t make it clear you are an informed consumer they can cause havoc.

    • CommonSense(ಠ_ಠ) says:

      That would be illegal.
      Anyways all you have to do is send proof of the chargeback to the collections company and they will drop it.

      • Jawaka says:

        A charge back doesn’t invalidate the debt to a person. It just cancels your payment to the person.

        • krom says:

          It sure does as far as the bank is concerned.

          When you dispute a charge, your bank (and/or sponsoring CC agency) demands proof of authorization from the vendor. If they don’t provide it, they break their CC acceptance agreement and the charge is invalidated. If they collect on you, there’s nothing to collect on; their charge was determined to be null and void.

          The notion that a successsful charge back doesn’t invalidate your “debt” is collection agency (or disreputable business) bullshit. That’s the whole point of the charge back process — invalidating the charge as illegitimate. The only thing is that a sloppy/disreputable company will fail to invalidate the charge as owed and instead keep it on the books as simply unpaid, and let collections run with it. After all, the mark may be dumb enough to fork it over. Profit!

    • Nikephoros says:

      Most scammy locksmiths deal in cash only.

  2. TuxMan says:

    Below the line fees are becoming the norm in america. It’s not just with locksmith, it’s everyone.

  3. Random Lurker says:

    AAA (if a member) and local police will often unlock car doors for free, if you have some patience. Most towing companies will also do it for under $20 if you give them a call.

    For houses, a home-rekeying kit is the best way to go if you are handy with a screwdriver. They are about 20 bucks at most hardware stores and usually cover 4 locks. If not, take your locks into said store and they will rekey them for you at a reasonable price. At minimum, they make a good place to price compare.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I think a lot of it really depends on the police department and the responding officer. The official policy of my city’s department is to not intervene, out of liability — Their insurer doesn’t want to deal with claims from scratched paint or windows, or with flat tires broken studs or damaged frames.

      My wife had a flat tire a few weeks ago and could not manage to get one of the lug nuts loose. A police officer pulled over and helped her with it, even though he could have been reprimanded for it. It came down to him being a nice guy and not wanting to wait with my wife until a tow truck or other help would come by (the neighborhood was pretty terrible).

      • Random Lurker says:

        You are quite right. It doesn’t tend to work well in big metro areas especially, but suburbs and smaller towns it can be fairly reliable (if you’re willing to wait, since cops may have better things to do). YMMV, but it’s always worth a phone call.

    • Bunnies Attack! says:

      Try Kwikset too. They’re a bit cheaper and theoretically lower quality but you still get the highest grade lock and its pretty easy to rekey yourself.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        I liked the Schlage system better than the Kwikset one. It’s a shame they discontinued the blue-key setup at the end of last year.

    • Kisses4Katie says:

      I was a AAA member and worked across the street from a police department. One day after work I locked my keys in my car while it was running (very stupid, I know). The police were unwilling to help, claiming I would sue them if they touched my car. The call to AAA told me it would be a 4 hour wait. My ignition was going!! So I finally had someone help me break in by bending the seal by the window and poking a stick on the door locks. So much for police or AAA. :(

    • Southern says:

      I just add Roadside Assistance to my car insurance. Costs less than $1.00 a month and covers a lot more than AAA does. Free towing (20 miles), Free fuel, free tire change, free lockout service, free jump start, etc.

      You can get it through most national cell phone carriers too, but it’s a lot more expensive, like $3.00 a month and doesn’t offer the same coverage.

  4. FatLynn says:

    I prefer to leave my child in the car at all times, so if I happen to lock my keys in the car, I can just dial 911.

  5. ScandalMgr says:

    Where are the “Gone in 60 seconds” thieves when you need them? They might give you a better price to open your door.

  6. Blueskylaw says:

    I replaced the windshield on my Benz a few years ago, it cost me $212 dollars out the door and they came to my place. A $150 charge to open a door is insanely ridiculous; it would be cheaper to just break your window and call a glass place to replace it.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I’m not sure if it’s just our car but we’ve always paid between at least $300 to replace broken front windows. We tend to go through the process about once or twice a year from people breaking into our cars or just going around smashing windows.

      • krom says:

        While $300 is the going rate, I’ve had my glass replaced for about half that. You can usually find a smaller place if you search enough (they tend to pay less on mass advertising etc.). Now, YMMV is important here. Some of those places do shoddy work. However, I once went with such a place, and even though it looked like they hadn’t done it right at all, it was the last windshield I put in the car and lasted the remaining 7 years I had the car — with no damage. It never leaked, either.

        Maybe I was lucky. But IMO it’s worth a shot. Later I heard of other people who had used the same company and had had similarly good experiences.

    • krom says:

      I do believe that would be insurance fraud, sir. :)

  7. Kate says:

    Many years ago, I had someone tow my car home when it broke down on the road. The police called him. He quoted me one price when he came and it doubled when I got home. He demanded it in cash before he removed the car and threatened to leave with my car if I didn’t give it to him.

    I should have called the police on him at that point, but I was young and stupid.

  8. haoshufu says:

    So really. How does the scam work? I still don’t understand. They should demonstrate it on TV. I think it is mostly desparate people not wanting to say “NO”.

  9. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    Yelp is rife with phake locksmith reviews. In my area, the same scumbags list under multiple names and fill their reviews with shill accounts. They have large numbers of 5 star reviews and 1 star reviews. All the 5 star reviews use the same word, misspelled the same way. I wouldn’t trust these crooks with a credit card number.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      You know what’s scary? I noticed the exact same pattern and drew the same conclusion while looking at reviews of DENTISTS in my area. (Well, I noticed it about one in particular who isn’t in my neighborhood, but about 20 minutes away.)

  10. Torgonius wants an edit button says:

    I needed to get the ignition on my wife’s Ford Focus re-keyed… again… last year. The first time, we were fortunate enough to get it started and taken to our locksmith who took care of it for under $50 in a half hour. Apprently, Foci have this issue alot, as he kept the parts in stock and could do the work in his sleep.

    The second time, we weren’t so lucky. The car was stuck in the parking lot at work. My locksmith said he couldn’t make it out until the next day. That was fine, we made arrangements for transportation and waited til the next day, and he never showed. I called that afternoon, and he wasn’t going to be able to make it. He had to order the parts, and they wouldn’t be in until the following Monday. Again, we work around the lack of a car issue and agree to wait til Monday.

    That Monday rolls around, and again, no parts. I agree to wait one more day, and again he couldn’t get it done.

    So I went online and found Run Local Locksmith. They can get someone out there and get it fixed that afternoon. He showed up on time. And the quoted price quickly tripled after he began working, as he ‘needed’ to do much more work than was ever done before. I smelled ‘scam’ but it was too late by then. The final bill was over $500, and the issue was barely resolved. The key still would stick from time to time.

    I looked them up on Scam.com, and sure enough, they have a decent sized entry on how they run the same scam on people.

    I guess I should try to find a new locksmith now, before I need one again.

  11. WarriorKitty82 says:

    OMG. Some hack tried this on me in Boston. It has got to be in places that can get away with that. In Alabama (I know, I know) you paid what they quoted you. This guy pulled up and it was something like $49.95, but that was just to get out of the car. He tried to charge me $150. I told him in no uncertain terms “no.” Ultimately, I ended up paying some $15 fee over the $50 I was willing to pay. On top of it, he was an amateur. He was only using a balloon- not even actually trying to open the door, but get the window open enough to stick something in and hit the lock. It. Was. Ridiculous.

  12. AstroPig7 says:

    I found a good locksmith through Angie’s List. I’ve found Yelp and similar services to be crammed with fake reviews.

  13. webweazel says:

    One of the best ideas someone gave me is thus: Take the “valet” key of your car and solidly duct tape it to the backside of the front license plate. If you don’t need a front plate in your state, get a decorative one. Use a license plate bracket for your car to hold it on top and bottom. Put the front plate on with large-slotted screws you can get off easily by using a quarter to unscrew it. No more lock outs!

    Do the same with your house key if you need to. Otherwise, if you have trusted friends or relatives nearby, give them copies of the house key to hold onto for you for emergencies.

    A deadbolt with a numbered keypad for the home is a great investment, even if it’s on a back or side door. Save the old lock and swap it out again if you move.

    • shepd says:

      People will notice the keys at the most unusual times. I had to tell a lady at the coffee shop that I could see a key magneted to the frame of her car clear as day. She said she it was probably her husband (she didn’t notice it until she sat beside me and could see it clearly too) and she removed it.

      The issue is, dozens of people may have seen it that day (never mind other days) and it would only take one with ulterior motives to ruin her day. Worse, it may cause insurance problems, depending on your insurer and type of insurance you have.

      Better bet is to keep one in your wallet or purse. Unfortunately, since most of today’s cars have anti-theft, that’s rather expensive and difficult as many (not all, person hitting reply!) transponder keys are surprisingly huge. Personally, my car doesn’t have anti-theft. My insurance company offers no discount for it. And even if they did, the cars that come with it have a higher insurance rate to start with (as they are stolen a lot more often than an old cop car).

      • webweazel says:

        The thieves know ALL about those magnetized key holders. That’s why the key behind the plate is good. Not many thieves would think to look there, nor waste the time looking. The magnet holders are easier to find, usually, but they won’t usually waste the time looking all over for it. Most thieves either just pop the door or smash a window anyway. Speed is their thing. Of course, if they spy a key holder in an easy-to-grab obvious place (like where people love to put them) right inside the wheelwell or something, it might prove way tempting to them.

        Some hints for hiding them: keep them away from the driver’s door area, keep them out of the wheelwell areas. That’s the first places they look. Crawl under the car and look for a good spot, preferably on a frame member. Above the gas tank? (not near the fuel sender, please!) Frame part next to the transmission or catalytic converter? Under a front or rear bumper? A spot on top of a frame member kinda inside the engine compartment, if it can be reached? Yeah, it might be a bit of a struggle to get at it later, but at least you’ll get in in a few minutes, rather than waiting hours for a locksmith to show up, and save some $$$, and it cannot be casually seen by a thief. NOTE: If your car ever goes to a repair shop, make sure the key hider WITH THE KEY IN IT is still there after getting the car back!

        To the other poster who said that thieves steal plates in their neighborhood, well, maybe not a great idea for you. In this case, leave a spare with a trusted friend who can run it over to you in a pinch. We don’t need a front plate where we are, ours is decorative, so nobody wants it.

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      People steal license plates around here, to put on their stolen cars. Taping a car key to your tag may not be the best advice.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        I think hiding a key is a pretty good advice, as long as the car requires a transponder key and the hidden key is just a regular non-transponder one. At worst, it only puts your possessions at risk for theft and not the vehicle itself.

    • alexwade says:

      There is a better (and safer) way of preventing your keys from being locked inside the car: Get in the habit of always locking the doors from the outside. If you always lock your doors from the outside, you can unlock your doors from the outside too.

      Thankfully, the new keyless cars fix this problem unless the battery is dead in the keyflob.

      • nugatory says:

        This is my solution too.

        When I first started driving and started carrying keys, I had a tendency to forget them everywhere I went. I got very skilled at opening older cars’ doors with a coat hanger.

    • DerangedKitsune says:

      Another good idea is sticking the spare key in your wallet or purse. While there’s still a chance of it being locked in the car, it’s less of one, especially as most people keep things like those on them at all times.

      • neilb says:

        I have one in my wallet for each of our cars. I hacksawed the head off of it. It is JUST big enough to be useful. It is small enough to not be noticeable, and it saves me a lot of anxiety.

    • MrEvil says:

      That’s a terrible idea, now everyone knows where you hide the keys on your car.

      I’d tell you where I hid mine on my vehicles, but then I’d have to kill you.

  14. JJFIII says:

    This is an example of the cheap becoming expensive.
    Spend a couple of bucks and get some form of roadside assistance. AAA is pretty cheap, and the peace of mind is well worth it.
    If it were for my home. I would demand an estimate in writing.
    Many police departments have stopped doing this for several reasons, including liability and manpower issues. I personally do not want the police assisting somebody getting his keys out of his cars when they could be patrolling the neighborhood

  15. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    I blame the OP. I pick my own locks at home.
    http://www.eventbrite.com/event/3337270867/eorg

    /s

    My spouse and I each have keys for all the cars. Every few years I end up unlocking her car for her.

  16. Stevea1210 says:

    Get one of these….
    http://www.hitchsafe.com/

    The security of a combo lock, unobtrsuive enough people won’t expect it to be a hide-a-key( just a regular hitch cover),the benefit of having a key handy when needed.

    it can’t be removed from the hitch without the combo or a blow torch.

  17. LionMan says:

    One final suggestion, make sure the locksmith has an actual address before calling them. You’ll find the scammy ones never have an actual local address, just a google voice (or 800) phone number.

  18. krom says:

    You could also say screw the locksmith and break into your own car. I did it with a tapered-end box cutter, butterfly clip, and coat hanger.

    Cheaper and less waiting.

    I suppose it helps that I’ve seen a locksmith break into a car for me before, so I have some idea of the tools, but frankly, most of his more useful tools were pretty jury-riggish. And the inflatable air bags they use are mainly to avoid scratching your paint. If you aren’t concerned with scratching or chipping your paint (touch-up is like $3 a bottle, btw), breaking in is not that hard.

    You need a wedge to bend your upper door frame, a shim to hold it open, and something long and either rigid or with a hook or strong adhesive. I had planned to use the coat hanger to push the unlock button on the armrest, but couldn’t get enough linear force to push it. Instead, bending the end into a hook and using that to pull open the manual lock switch was much easier.

    As with all useful knowledge, the choice of whether to use it for good or evil is in your hands.

  19. farcedude2 says:

    Uhh, see if your insurance policy includes roadside assistance – USAA does, and I’ve used them a couple times to get my car door unlocked (until I finally got a copy of the key made and put it in my wallet). So far, my rates haven’t gone up, or anything like that.

  20. bluetech says:

    Call AAA and buy a membership, will cost under $100 and you can use it immediately and send someone out to assist you.

  21. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I keep the local Pop-A-Lock in my cell phone. I’ve done this twice in the last six months. Dammit. It’s soooo embarrassing, because they show up in a Volkswagen Bug with “POP-A-LOCK” emblazoned all over it in big letters. But they only charge around $40 and are pretty reliable. They also have a thing where if you lock your kid in the car, it’s considered an emergency and it’s free. Or else they did; I’m not sure if they still do that.

  22. keyman424 says:

    I would like everyone to know that these are not real locksmiths. This started as a criminal gang of criminal advertisers from Israel. By using tens of thousands of phony listings at phony addresses all over the United States they have created a monopoly of listings crowding out real locksmiths in some cases 100 to 1. They are also doing this in other industries such as carpet cleaning, limousine, exterminators, moving, online florists, towing, furnace duct cleaning, etc. Many of the employees are flown in from Israel on tourist visas and then trained how to run the scams of bait and switch and ripping off consumers. These advertising scams are run by a few individuals from Israel. The scams probably reach into the billions. So far the federal government and many state governments have turned a blind eye to these criminals and refuse to take any kind of action even though there have been hundreds of stories regarding these thieves. The problem is growing due to the non action of law enforcement. Now the employees of the scammers are replicating the same scam of their own. The locksmith scams are mostly if not all run by Israeli foreigners. These are in most cases not locksmiths but locksmith impersonators posing as locksmiths that have know knowledge of the locksmith trade. To try and differentiate between a phony and real locksmith I can only advise that you ask alot of questions. Phonys will not give you direct answers and usually always say the technician has to give you a call or tells you the tech has to give you the final price if you ask for a complete price. Any locksmith who is real can give you an exact price for almost every car opening. Cars are for the most part the same. If your locked out of your home they will always destroy your lock and then up charge you for it and then sell you a garbage replacement lock for the price of gold.

    I would also like to recommend that if you find these phony listings in your neighborhood that you should call the police and report them and demand they take action before more people are ripped off. If you were to go on the internet and search Yahoo listings you will find thousands of them along with phony reviews claiming how professional they are. If you click on the poster info you can see many of them have reviewed other phony listings around the country. I would call these a major WIRE FRAUD scheme perpetrated by Illegal aliens from Israel. The government is allowing this by their non action. WHY??? It is a Billion dollar scam.
    PLease watch this ABC GMA story as it lays it out pretty good.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYK7-3AJRZM . The company highlighted in this news story is not the only call center. There are more…

    Here is another one from NBC Today show with Jeff Rossen

    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/45320607#45320607 There is a short commercial first

    Mike Bronzell
    Chairman – ALOA National Locksmith Task Force

    • scoosdad says:

      Could you please mention one more time where the perpetrators of these scams allegedly come from?

      Sheesh.

    • raytube says:

      There’s a nest in Greenwood Village, CO, it’s a ‘call center’ with guys in vans all over the U.S.
      Several registered business names. Answer the phone with ‘Locksmith’ , no company name…
      I’ve done work for them, they don’t care who they ream. I’ve also had the carpet cleaners at my house, same thing. All of these characters have something in common. They jibber jabber in their native language on the phone ALOT. Most have been thru some formal military training, and some have saved bookmarks to their countries military sites. Notice I didn’t say what nationality, but they are all trained creeps. Something about these guys in white vans just makes me not trust them…..

  23. raytube says:

    you do that once, you make a hide-a-key work, or you are a dummy for doing it again.

  24. central_ny_dude says:

    AAA is great to have. I do a lot of traveling, and the Gold membership gets you towing for 100 miles. That said, I’ve helped co-workers get into their locked out cars. I helped a customer unlock her van, which she somehow locked her child in, with it running. I don’t use any usual hide-a-key systems. Since I do a lot of my own work on my cars, I know how to get in if I need to. I also know my cars well enough to be able to stash a key somewhere in a way no one would suspect it. (Putting it behind a license plate is a stupid idea, a thief will look there, and in usual spots for a hidden key.) My father has spares for all of my vehicles, and if I am driving long distance for a few days, I take a spare set of keys with me. Having only one set of keys is asking for trouble.

    If you are losing your keys often, might I suggest putting them on a carabiner to hang from a belt loop? I do that with all my keys. They can’t fall out of my pockets by accident, and its a lot less likely to set off the alarms when you don’t stuff your pockets full of other garbage. I also make the ignition key and remote fob detachable, you can leave your car running, lock the doors, then get back in easily.

    I have also had a sheriff unlock my doors for me when I was younger. They have done it for tourists where I work. They will sometimes do it, or call someone for you. But, if they open the doors for you, be sure you can prove to them that it is your car. They will expect your registration and insurance to match up with your license. They don’t go around with the habit of letting anyone into a locked car, just because you ask nice.

  25. JP says:

    About 10 years ago I was dropping a fellow musician off at his home at 3 am after a gig. After unloading his stuff from my Jeep, I of course stupidly locked the door from the outside with the engine running. And my wallet was in the car. Had to wake the wife, get her CC, call the damn 1-800 locksmith and pay $150 to watch him open it in fifteen seconds.