Cover Your Assets

Sept. 4, 2023

Before Locksmith Ledger kicks off its Back to Basics educational series, we wanted to share some business information, presented at Wayne Winton’s Locksmith Live session on July 18. He stressed that there are some things you need to know that don’t involve repining a cylinder or unlocking a door.

Before heading out on a service call, you need some information on the person requesting the service. Who is the customer? It’s not ‘can we rekey the lock?’ but should we? It’s important to verify and vet customers before opening their house or their car. “It’s more important to me that we are working for the correct people than the actual details of the job itself,” Winton said.

When a customer calls, the first step is to start asking questions. What is the problem? What needs to be fixed/replaced? What hardware is on the door?

The next steps are for both the customer’s protection and the locksmith’s protection. Winton tries to move the conversation over to text message “By doing that, now we’re going to have a paper trail, a phone number and a time and date stamp.”

In fact, he recommends going one step further. Verify the name and address with a photo ID. Anyone could say they are Bob and they’ve lived at the address 20 years. Make sure that is the case before starting work.

Take a picture of the photo ID and add to the invoice and make sure the address on the license is the same as the home. Sometimes the address doesn’t match – someone may be in an Airbnb, staying with family, just moved or own multiple homes. How about a piece of mail?

Even when everything checks out, you can still have a problem. Here’s an example. A young woman called about a lost key. Her name and address on the license matched the home, and she had a piece of mail addressed to her as well. No red flags, so new key cut.

A month later, an angry man called the locksmith, threatening to sue. The parents were out of town and had recently kicked their adult daughter out of the home. Both the driver’s license and the mail showed her living in that home. The woman had thrown a party, caused thousands of dollars of damage to the home, taken a car for a joyride, etc.

Thankfully, Winton had full documentation that he was able to voluntarily turn over to local police after talking to his attorney (always the first step in such disputes). “I like to protect myself and make sure we are doing the correct things for the correct people,” he said.

“Before you do any work, please, please do your due diligence and make sure that you are doing the correct work for the correct person.” You can be highly skilled, but if you’re doing work for the wrong person, or you’re helping someone commit a crime, that violates the locksmith code of ethics.

Sometimes there can be a legitimate need for a customer to gain entry into a home they do not own, such as a house sitter or pet sitter when the owner is out of town.  In this kind of case, the best practice is to verify their name and address with photo ID AND get the contact info for the homeowner and verify with the owner that it’s okay to grant access to this person. Sometimes it is a judgement call. A pet sitter may have written instructions from the homeowner, or the owner may not be reachable.

“At the end of the day, you’re the one that has to live with it and have it rest on your shoulders. Do what it takes for you to sleep good at night, knowing that if there is a problem, you’ve covered your assets enough to not be held legally liable for performing locksmith or security services to the wrong person,” Winton advises.

Another tip when someone is locked out: ask them what’s inside and where they put their keys. If the description matches, that’s further verification.

If you start to get sketchy feelings after the fact, there’s no shame in saying ‘I don’t feel good about the situation. I’m going to call law enforcement and have an officer come down here and check out the situation and make sure you belong here.’ Even if you’ve already opened the door, it’s better to say something than not do anything at all, Winton advises.

The same due diligence – or even more – is needed for safe openings.

Here’s one example. A couple called and asked for a safe to be opened. Winton asked them to send contact information and the address. They said ‘oh no, the safe is in our car.’ Red flag: who keeps their safe in their car?

They said the safe contained $100,000 cash and their passports and ID. Red Flag 2.  “Wow, you’re driving around with a safe and $100,000 in cash and you’re telling me that you want me to open it for you and this all seems above board and legit?” Winton asked them.

After some thought, he called them back and offered to meet at the local police station and have an officer present to verify their information and video the safe opening. They agreed, which made some of those red flags go away.

Winton opened the safe and sure enough, everything was inside, just as the customers had claimed. Everything was 100 percent legitimate. The couple worked service jobs and had saved cash for 10 years and were ready to go to the mortgage company and make their down payment on their home. The safe lock failed at the worst possible time.

A final safeguard: customers should sign a disclaimer saying that they have the authority for the work and that the work was completed correctly with no damage.

These are the building blocks of becoming a good locksmith. Having a code of ethics, a code of conduct, a set of standards, having your license, having your business license, paying any taxes and understanding the laws in your area is going to be far more beneficial to you than any physical security training.

Check out Wayne Winton's full video libraries at Wayne’ and or visit the Facebook Group Locksmith Nation to sign up for future Locksmith Live sessions, held on Monday nights at 4 p.m. Mountain.