TAMPA, Florida - According to the Better Business Bureau, 92 percent of all locksmiths listed online or in the phone book are non-licensed scam artists. Hillsborough County's Consumer Protection Agency is offering advice for consumers the next time they are locked out of their house or accidentally lock their keys in the car.
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During National Consumer Protection Week, the county's Consumer Protection Agency is helping people arm themselves with enough information and resources to avoid losing money and become savvy consumers. The following tips from the County's Consumer Protection Agency can help you become better informed and make finding a reputable business a bit easier:
How Phony Locksmiths Operate
• Phony locksmiths advertise in the phone book or on the Web using local telephone numbers and addresses belonging to unsuspecting residents, businesses, or even vacant property.
• Unscrupulous locksmiths use several names and telephone numbers that are returned to the same answering service, which may be a call center in another city.
• The call center gives you a low competitive quote and dispatches a local technician to assist you.
• The technician drives an unmarked vehicle and charges you more money than was quoted, and tries to intimidate you into paying the increased fee with cash -- a "Bait 'n Switch."
• The unscrupulous locksmith leaves you with a generic receipt with no identifying information.
• The consumer is left paying an unknown company more than they ever agreed to.
What You Should Do
• Research a locksmith before you call and find an established local locksmith with 24-hour service.
• Keep a business card in your wallet or program a trusted locksmith number in your phone to have at all times.
• Check locksmiths with the Florida Attorney General's Office, the County Consumer Protection Agency, and the Better Business Bureau to make sure no unresolved complaints are on file.
• Check with roadside assistance services for a list of pre-approved locksmiths.
• Ask family and friends for recommendations and referrals.
• Verify a locksmith's address using websites that allow you to match phone numbers with street addresses.
• Ask for an estimate on the phone for the total cost of the work.
• Always ask about additional fees, such as mileage, or a minimum service charge fee.
• Always ask the locksmith for identification, including a business card.
• Check to see if the invoice includes the company's name, address, and telephone number.
• If the price the locksmith provides is different from the phone estimate, do not allow the work to be done.
• Get an itemized invoice after the work is completed.
Log onto Hillsborough County's Consumer Protection Agency website at www.hillsboroughcounty.org/consumerprotection to take advantage of the wide range of tools available to help everyone become better educated consumers.