"I Fell For The Locksmith Scam"

There are lots of honest locksmiths out there — but there are dishonest ones too — and they’re notorious for bullying helpless consumers out of a lot of money. Here’s the scenario: You’re locked out of your car, so you call a locksmith. You’re quoted a price that seems reasonable, but when the “locksmith” shows up, he bullies you into paying more money — a lot more.

Alison Prezler, from the BBB, told MSNBC’s Consumer Man columnist, Herb Weisbaum, “They have made taking advantage of people who are locked out of their house or car part of their business model.”

Sadly, this is the exact scenario recently faced by reader Kaitlin. She was locked out of her car and used Google 411 to find a locksmith, and would like to share her story as a warning to others:

I locked my keys in my car Monday afternoon. It was in the parking lot of a bank/grocery store. i waited a couple hours for my boyfriend to bring me an extra key. when he couldn’t find it, my dad came to try to break into my car. No go. My 2005 Focus cannot be slim-jimmed. So, after almost 4 hours, I decide to call a locksmith. I used google 411, and picked a locksmith that was supposedly on a road nearby, because i thought it would be quick. The two I called before I got this one didn’t answer their phones. A1 24 hr Locksmith answers and tells me $39.99 + about a $19 service charge. I tell him the kind of car, the address, etc. They say 25-30 mins.

I start to think things might be weird when I get two calls from two different people to confirm the address, my name, etc. The “locksmith” shows up over an hour later, in an unmarked car, with no uniform. I show him my car and he decides that my 2005 ford focus is VERY hard to break into, and that the labor charge is gonna go up to $125, for a total of $177 after tax. About $19 does not = $125. I’m sure he saw 20 year old female college student and thought $$$$$. He is very intimidating. He tells me he’s charged people $260 to get into their cars, and that he is giving me a deal, it is late at night, what am I gonna do. He insists that I have to pay him for the service charge anyways. It’s almost 9, I’ve been locked out of my car for almost 5 hours with only a sweatshirt, and I’m cold (live in the seattle area). We argue awhile. I, on the verge of tears, agree to pay him. It takes him all of 2 minutes to unlock my car. I give him my credit card, and ask him if he has a business card, invoice, etc as I was planning on reporting them to the BBB. He could not give me anything that linked him to a business of any sort. This all seems way too suspicious. I drive home, seething.

When I woke up and won’t to work the next morning, I noticed that the door of my car was all bent up. I didn’t see it in the dark the night before. I decided to call the company back and ask for a partial refund, due to the bait and switch, the late locksmith, and especially the damage to my car. The manager lies, saying that he didn’t even have an appt with me. I said “well, I have the license plate number of the car. I will just call the cops to report it, and cancel my credit card.” He suddenly “remembers” me. Refuses to discuss the damage to my car or a partial refund. He just kept repeating that it wasn’t a scam since the driver told me the price before he did the work. I told him if he wouldn’t help me, that I would file a charge-back and report him to the bbb, etc.

I called my bank and they were very helpful. They canceled the card so it could not be used again, and began the charge-back process. When I researched online, there were all kinds of stories about a couple companies back east who have local numbers with made up addresses and ads all over the country. People have lost $300 and more. They dispatch the calls in their main offices, and send out local contractors. They do this all the time- there are hundreds of horror stories, and some of them are about A1 24 hr locksmith. Hopefully the charge-back works. These people lie, and kick you when you are down. Its really hard to google the business name or check out it’s reputation when you’re locked out of your car in a parking lot. I shudder t think what the charge (and intimidation) would have been like if my dad hadn’t been there with me.

Is there anyone else I can file complaints with? I want to get them in trouble and I want to keep this from happening to other people. Businesses should not be able to get away with this. From reading the stories, I doubt they were even licensed, etc. Out of curiosity, I contacted more locksmiths and got the same sort of response. Finally, I got one who seemed reputable. He told me it would be $60 flat no possibility for change, etc, and said he had helped an old woman who was charged $200 to be let into her car

You’ve already done the right thing and reported this shady company to your credit card company. Be sure to keep following up with them and file any paperwork request in a timely fashion.

Next, report the locksmith company to the BBB, because they like to keep an eye on this sort of thing. Finally, file an official report with your state’s attorney general and/or department of consumer affairs.

And, now that you know what its like to be taken advantage of by a shady locksmith, check your credit cards to see if they offer roadside assistance for when you’re away from home — and find a local locksmith that’s dependable for when you’re not.

(Photo: mullenite )

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