Excerpt from article by David Colker, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer - August 5, 2007
(Full article available online at http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-consumer5aug05,1,2118103,full.story?ctrack=2&cset=true)
"There's a large underground economy in California among locksmiths," said Kevin Flanagan, spokesman for the state Department of Consumer Affairs.
Except for rare stings, licensing fraud goes on unabated. A quick survey of the locksmiths listed on the Los Angeles Yellowpages.com directory showed that many business names were not licensed.
"There is probably not a level of resources here," Flanagan said, "that could allow us to regulate all the unlicensed activity."
Individuals can check on a company or a locksmith's license at the department's site, www.dca.ca.gov/bsis/lookup.htm (click on "Locksmith Company"). A license doesn't guarantee, however, that you'll get a locksmith with a rosy reputation. For example, Dependable has a California license. So how do you make sure a locksmith on a call to rekey locks on your house or car is not a scammer?
There's no surefire way, but there are strategies to improve the odds.
If you are a member of the Automobile Club of Southern California, you can get referrals to an AAA locksmith it has checked out. Locksmiths must be licensed and pass business competency background checks to get on the referral roster.
The Auto Club's referrals are mostly, but not exclusively, for car-lock problems, including replacement car keys, spokeswoman Carol Thorp said.
The "classic" (formerly basic) membership level comes with the right to four referrals a year for car lockouts, with the club subsidizing as much as $60 an incident. "Premiere" members get four car-lockout referrals plus one referral a year in case of a residential lockout, each with a subsidy of up to $150.
Otherwise, Flanagan had this advice: Be prepared. Don't wait until you need a locksmith; find one or more beforehand. "Get names and numbers and carry them in your wallet," he said.
Bronzell suggested you look up local locksmiths at http://www.findalocksmith.com/ to see whether they are members of the Associated Locksmiths of America. But that's not foolproof. The organization, he said, has found scammers on its membership rolls.
Perhaps the best method is to get a good referral. "Check with a friend, a relative," he said. "Find someone they've done business with."
Bronzell said warnings put out by organizations such as the Council of Better Business Bureaus were helpful in educating the public about unsavory companies and characters in the industry. He just wants to make sure they are not called locksmiths, even when criticizing them.
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