Steer clear of fraudulent locksmiths in D.C.

Steer clear of fraudulent locksmiths in D.C.

The car door shuts, and, unfortunately, you find yourself locked out. You don’t have a spare key handy and your spouse is not home. It appears that hiring the services of a locksmith is your only option.

However, calling on a locksmith may be just the beginning of your problems.

According to the Locksmith Association of America, most of the locksmith ads in print and online are placed by scam artists. The locksmith scam has a strong presence in Washington, D.C., and has spread throughout the country (see Locksmith complaints stem from upselling, false advertising). Angie's List discovered that scammers typically quote a reasonable price over the phone and then hike the fee after they show up.

These scams continue because locksmiths can work in Washington, D.C., and Maryland without a license, says John Hardy, president of highly rated Area Safe and Lock Service in Alexandria, Va., where licenses are required statewide. Another issue is that areas like D.C. have limited resources to police any regulations, Hardy says.

“Most of the scams are ‘lockouts,’ where they quote a caller $35 to come out,” adds Hardy, noting that the elderly frequently are targets of locksmith scams. “They come out and say they can’t replace the lock. Then they charge people $200 or $300 for their services.”

The “bait and switch” is another scamming tactic. A company may tell you it is $40 for a service call, but there is a catch. “They tell you that $40 was just to get them out there,” says James Meadows, shop manager at highly rated Spencer’s Safe and Lock in Herndon, Va.

To ensure that the locksmith you call will be reliable and efficient in getting the job done, follow these 5 tips:

  1. Check the locksmith’s certification. In Virginia, all locksmiths must be certified by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. The certification, which was enacted in October 2008, requires every locksmith operating in the state to have a license. “The best way is to ask for their DCJS number,” Hardy says.
  2. Check for industry affiliations. “Make sure they are registered with ALOA (Associated Locksmiths of America),” Meadows recommends.
  3. Ask for a price quote beforehand. When you call a prospective locksmith, ask for a specific quote. Meadows recommends getting a total amount over the phone, making sure the locksmith quotes an exact price.
  4. Observe details. For example, a professional locksmith should be using a company van or truck. “If they are in a company truck that is lettered, they are most likely going to be licensed,” Hardy says.
  5. Research reports and referrals. The Better Business Bureau and Angie’s List are good sources to prevent you from being scammed the next time you are locked out of your home or car, or have issues with your locks. You also can visit ALOA’s website at for more information.