We give them access to our homes, cars and safes, but do we really know if the locksmith we called is on the up and up?
"One doesn’t stop and think about it, but this person is at your residence installing a new key and that key lock could very easily be duplicated with an additional key that would later allow this person entry into our home," said Jorge Herrera, with the Miami-Dade Consumer Protection Department, the agency that regulates the locksmith industry.
In a joint effort with Miami Beach Police, Miami-Dade’s Consumer Protection Department recently conducted an undercover operation to net unlicensed locksmiths, many of them imposters. The agency fined a locksmith accused of operating without a license $2,000.
Herrera said the suspect showed up in an unmarked vehicle wearing a T-shirt with another company’s logo. Investigators don’t know how he got the shirt, but say lately they’ve seen unlicensed locksmiths posing as legitimate companies, like AAA Miami Locksmith.
Maria Guadamuz, owner of AAA Miami Locksmith, said she’s Googled her information and found ads with her company’s name and address but someone else’s phone number. Guadamuz said in recent years she’s found several locksmiths posing as representatives of her company.
She’s fought with internet providers to remove ads like one Team 6 Investigators found in the yellow pages that had her address, but a phone number with a Virginia area code. The team 6 Investigators called the number and the man who answered said "Ma’am, we are a private locksmith, if you want the service we will be happy to give you the service." The man did not identify himself and hung up when asked about the ad with AAA Miami Locksmith’s address.
Herrera said when you call locksmith impostors "you end up reaching a phone bank that is somewhere in another state; they then do business with these unlicensed individuals.” He said the impostors will “give you a price over the phone and when you finally have the job completed you find that they’re charging you way in excess."
The county calls this practice alarming because consumers end up dealing with unlicensed locksmiths who haven’t had the criminal background check required by the county.
Ernest Castillo is a licensed locksmith who’s been working at AAA Miami Locksmith for ten years. He said he’s heard of unlicensed locksmiths stealing from people, but said the most common problem is unscrupulous billing practices.
"I’ve heard of a customer being charged $400 or $500 to open up a door and these are the mobile, most of the time, mobile locksmiths that are uninsured and they don't have licenses and they just really take advantage of the moment with the customers and basically charge them whatever they like,” Castillo said.
To avoid these types of issues, the county recommends you call them at 305-375-3677 to verify if the locksmith you are calling is licensed. Ask the county for the phone number on file for the company and call it directly to make sure you are dealing with the company you think you are.