Consumers Should Be Aware
"Local Locksmith" Scams
The PLAA has been watching with growing concern, developments in the USA concerning "scams" in which an established Locksmith firm's identity is actually stolen. It's been going on for several years now and just as we anticipated, it has arrived in Western Canada.
Recent CTV news stories from BC's lower mainland tell the familiar story that we've been hearing from the states: a customer accidentally locks him/herself out of a residence, hurriedly finds a Locksmith in the yellow pages and calls for service. An vague estimate is given and accepted, considering the circumstances, and a "Locksmith" is dispatched.
Four CTV news videos can be seen here, (these links will take you to CTV's web site in a separate window)
Unlicensed locksmith caught on tape
A local locksmith with international ties
Phone book company probes locksmiths
Locksmith network abandons Metro Vancouver
The customer feels confident in the choice of Locksmith he/she made, as the ad in the yellow pages makes the firm seem local: uses a local telephone number and even quotes a street address that the customer knows exists from his/her knowledge of the area. The name of the Locksmith firm is also one that is familiar to the customer - or at least similar to one that's familiar.
Upon arrival, the "Locksmith" spends a short time attempting to pick the lock and eventually tells the client that the lock cannot be picked, but rather it will have to be opened in a more damaging fashion (by drilling) and then replaced. The final bill for services and products, is often twice what a legitimate Locksmith would charge, even if the extreme circumstances were real. The stories from the States tell of elderly people taken for as much as $300.00 in such a scenario.
Subsequent calls to the "Locksmith" firm after the fact, result in evasive tactics, excuses and telephone numbers "going dead". The victim eventually tries calling the legitimate Locksmith - the one to whose name the scammer's was similar - only to find they had no knowledge of the event but have been hearing similar stories from other people recently.
How can consumers protect themselves from being victimized in this way? Knowledge is power. The best way to protect yourself from this kind of thing is to know a Locksmith in the same way that you would know an auto mechanic or appliance repair shop or any other trade. People who regularly use the professional and knowledgeable services of a Locksmith for even such routine things as having a spare key made, choosing a padlock, fixing car door lock problems, etc. are rarely the victims of such scams because they know beforehand exactly who they would call in the event of an emergency. Even if they find out at the last minute that their favourite Locksmith doesn't perform emergency open-ups, he certainly has the name and number of someone reputable that he recommends.
Failing that, use a Locksmith that the PLAA recommends. On this website (www.plaa.org) you'll find a list of Corporate Members in good standing.
Check educational credentials: A person who is a certified Journeyman Locksmith or registered Apprentice in the Province of Alberta or Saskatchewan will have credentials in his/her wallet that say so and is definitely a professional Locksmith who believes in having the skills to do the job correctly and effectively - not just knowing how to make the job appear complicated and how to up-charge. In BC, a Locksmith may or may not have a Certificate of Qualification in the occupation of Locksmith. Unfortunately, there is no credential to show that an individual is working towards one. In order to operate his/her own firm in BC, the CQ is required. In Manitoba, no training certificate exists.
Check licensing credentials: In Alberta, the law changed in the Spring of 2009. Prior to June 1, 2010, an individual was required to possess a license to carry lock picking tools, issued by Alberta's Solicitor General under section 353 of the Criminal Code of Canada, entitled "Automobile Master Key License". This is photo Id, showed an expiry date and the name of the individual's employer.
After June 1, 2010, Locksmiths in Alberta became required to hold a license to offer Locksmith services under Alberta's new Security Services and Investigators' Act. Employers hold a company license and all technicians hold individual licenses. It is an offence under the act to provide Locksmith services to the public without this license. More information can be found at www.securityprograms.alberta.ca.
Verify the address: If using online services to find your emergency Locksmith, this is exceedingly easy. The scammers almost always list an address in their efforts to appear local. Often, the address is for private mailbox outlets, don't exist at all, or are even addresses of telephone company offices. In the CTV stories referenced below, two of the addresses the scammers used were those of Telus locations. If using online services, a quick click can often show you the location on the map and even provide street view photographs of the area.
This can be tricky, however. In several stories that surfaced in the US recently, scammers placed ads with non-existent addresses that, if they were valid, would be in the same commercial real estate development as the Locksmith they're posing as with their ad. So, if you actually do see a Locksmith shop in at that location, verify the exact name to the letter and even the address to the exact numeral. People have fallen victim by assuming there is no difference between such things as "City Lock and Safe" at 13D Willow Tree Mall and "City Lock and Key" at 13K Willow Tree Mall (fictitious names used to make a point, only).
What can you do after the fact? Check the venue in which you found the "Locksmith". Most commercial directories have a way for you to file a review or a complaint about the company's practises. The Yellow Pages online, for instance, shows a link to "write a review" beside a company's listing.
Lodge a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Believe it or not, some of these scammers like to advertise that they are BBB members, notwithstanding the fact that they carry an "F Minus" rating.
Lodge a formal complaint with the PLAA. While it's not likely the offending parties are PLAA members and while the PLAA does not have punitive powers towards Locksmiths, we can inform others of complaints we've received. We can be contacted online at www.plaa.org, in writing C/O 36 Sunridge Close, Airdrie, AB T4B-2G3, or by calling (403) 948-9997 or toll free (877) 765-7522.