One of the worst security threats to your household is an unscrupulous locksmith who surreptitiously breaks into your wallet by charging exorbitant fees for unnecessary work.
That's just what the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers to be on the lookout for -- charlatans masquerading as locksmiths.
Complaints about locksmiths to the nation's 114 BBBs was up 75 percent in 2006, compared to 2005 and it doesn't appear the schemes are abating.
This year several faux locksmith companies, all using similar cons, are considered responsible for most of the alleged hornswoggling -- significantly overcharging consumers, charging consumers for unnecessary services, using intimidation tactics, and failing to give refunds or respond to consumer complaints.
And it's not just the money.
Someone who is trying to fleece you, who also has the skills to unlock your door, could also be a threat to your personal safety.
Here's the ruse.
The BBB says adding irony to impunity, a company calling itself "Dependable Locksmith" allegedly operates under more than dozen different names. The company allegedly advertises in the local Yellow Pages using local telephone numbers and addresses to pose as a local service provider in numerous cities. Consumers who think they are dealing locally are actually connected to a Bronx (New York City) boiler room.
Consumers are quoted a reasonable price over the phone but when the locksmith arrives -- typically in an unmarked vehicle -- he demands significantly more money than originally quoted, often only accepting cash, the BBB says.
In one complaint a consumer said "Superb Solutions" allegedly quoted fees of $39 and $84 for separate jobs, but the invoice came in at $471, including a $65 "breaking-in" fee and a $58 fee to "uninstall old locks."
Another consumer reported a locksmith demanded double the original quote and offered to drive her to an ATM after he opened her locked car. When the victim refused, the locksmith forced her to write a check by physically preventing her from entering her car. She canceled the check the next morning, but filed a police report after the loquacious locksmith harassed her with phone calls about payment.
Locksmith grifters aren't new.
Last year, a Boston ABC television news affiliate, California's Department of Consumers Affairs, the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, Chicago's Department of Consumer Services and other agencies all operated stings to out crooked locksmiths.
The stings were sprung because, just as is also the case this year, victims says the suspect locksmiths pretend they can't simply pick the lock so that they can charge more to install new locks.
Along with "Superb Solutions," Dependable Locksmiths aliases allegedly include "Locksmith 24 Hour, Inc.," "USA Total Security," "Priceline Locksmith," and "S.O.S. Locksmith."
The BBB also says to be on the lookout for other locksmiths allegedly fleecing consumers including "Basad, Inc." operating under more than 50 names nationwide, including "A-1 Locksmith Service," "A-1 24 Hour Locksmith," "A-1 Lock & Key Locksmith," "AAA Locksmith 24 Hour," and "Liberty Locksmith."
Compounding matters, some legitimate locksmiths could take on similar names simply to attract business by getting their company at the top of the list in Yellow Page listings, where consumers still unadvisedly look for locksmiths.
What's more, some of the con companies sign on with the Better Business Bureau.
The BBB in June terminated Liberty Locksmith's BBB membership in Tulsa, OK for providing false and misleading advertising information and false information to the BBB. During the member validation process, BBB discovered false addresses provided by the company.
Consumers must be particularly diligent about scrutinizing the professional background of locksmiths. Only nine states, Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas require licensing, according to the Associated Locksmiths of America.
The trade group has mounted its own campaign against phony locksmiths offering online links to consumer complaint forms and to regulatory agencies in all states and Washington, D.C.
The trade group's complaint page also offers a "10-point Phony Locksmith Checklist" for consumers who want to lockout the scams.