Dayton, Ohio, BBB Warns About Out-of-State Locksmith Call Centers

March 07--The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers about locksmith companies that claim to be locally based but actually are out-of-state call centers that may employ untrained subcontractors and charge high rates for their services.

John North, Dayton BBB president and CEO, said his organization is concerned about complaints from consumers who found locksmiths from advertisements on the internet. The local BBB received 1,428 calls from the public seeking background information on locksmith companies in 2012, up from 987 in 2011.

Jerry Shaw, owner of Shaw's Lock and Key Service in Huber Heights, said fly-by-night companies are trying to steal business from local companies. He said the questionable operations use call centers and advertise extensively on internet search engines so that anyone looking for a locksmith in their neighborhood will see that company's phone number first.

"They may be number one on the web site but they may not be local," Shaw said.

No receipt provided

Jen Chapman of Dayton filed a complaint with the BBB after her husband called a company he found on the internet. The company quoted a price of $75 to unlock their car. When a locksmith arrived, she said the price jumped to $150. Chapman said the company later refused to provide a receipt for insurance purposes.

When Chapman tried to contact the business to resolve the dispute, a person answering the phone refused to tell her where the company was located.

The companies in question claim to operate from local addresses, but when a reporter checked some of their locations no physical structures could be found. One company, Locks & Locksmiths, advertised a Taylorsville Road address. All that was found there was a vacant home. Two other companies, Imperial Locksmith and Huber Key Men, said they were on Chambersburg Road but the addresses listed were a barren strip mall.

One company that advertises on the internet lists local numbers for Dayton and eight other area communities. The person answering the phone identified himself only as the "guy who schedules service runs when people call." While he referred all questions to the company email address, he did confirm that he is located in Wilmington, Del.

No response has been received to an email request for information.

Shaw warns consumers to check out any company to make sure they are legitimate with the expertise to do the job correctly.

"It is dangerous because you do not know who you are dealing with," Shaw said.

Ohio not regulated

Unlike barbers, pawn shops and many other businesses, locksmiths are not regulated in Ohio and no licensing is required. The industry does have an international trade organization that supports licensing legislation. Jim Hancock, Education and Certification Manager for Dallas-based Associated Locksmiths of America, said they represent 6,000 companies.

Hancock said that 15 states require locksmith licensing. He said that, in most cases, background checks weed out problem companies.

Locksmith Kevin Donahoe, who operates South Side Lock and Key in Miamisburg and is president of the local chapter of the locksmith association, thinks licensing would help. He said that if a locksmith uses an unmarked vehicle and looks unprofessional, that could signal trouble. He added that if a locksmith tries to double or triple the quoted price, they likely are not from a legitimate company.

Web sites also can provide clues about a business' home base. For example, Kettering Key & Safe's web site spells "Kettering" incorrectly in its business description, and among its promotional photos is a picture of a building surrounded by palm trees. Its East Stroop Road address does not exist.

"It is a sad situation when you have a business whose model is designed to take advantage of people," Donahoe said.

Donahoe advised people to become familiar with local locksmiths before an emergency arises. The Better Business Bureau maintains a web site that lists member companies. Consumers can check accreditation, a company's rating and review any complaints.

Above all, said North, be careful when hiring a company to deal with security at your home or business.

"If they are going to scam you in this fashion, with access to your home and credit card information, you never know what they might be capable of doing," he said.

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