(ANGIE'S LIST) - Caution is key when hiring a locksmith, experts say.
Imagine that it's late at night. You've locked yourself out of your home or car and you're starting to panic. You call the first locksmith you find online or in the phone book.
That's when your night could go from bad to worse.
"Don't wait for an emergency when it comes to finding a good locksmith because if you do, you might be desperate and fall victim to a locksmith scam," Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, says. "People that haven't planned ahead often overlook extra charges and also don't notice red flags."
Red flag number one: be wary of locksmith companies that aren't locally-owned and operated.
"Ask where their dispatch location is. If it's out of state, that's a problem," locksmith company owner Mary Tinder says.
Red flag number two: a locksmith who refuses to give you an estimate or price range over the phone.
"When interviewing your locksmith make sure you understand any extra fees that might be associated with hiring them," Hicks says. "For example, do they charge extra for a late night visit? Also, do they charge by the lock or is it a flat fee?"
If a locksmith arrives in an unmarked vehicle, that's red flag number three.
Red flag number four: A technician who doesn't care about ID.
:18 Mary Tinder/Locksmith Company Owner
"The technician doesn't even ask you for ID and they're going to let anybody into your house? That's a red flag," Tinder says. "If they can't provide ID. That's a red flag. They should have the company name listed fairly prominently."
And finally, red flag number five: a locksmith who immediately says he or she needs to drill your lock. That should be a last resort, not the first.
"A professional locksmith has the tools that they need," Tinder says. "They have the training, the experience. Frankly, they take a lot of pride in being able to get in to your lock without doing damage."
If the locksmith's on-site price doesn't match the phone estimate, don't allow the work to be performed.
The South Carolina Locksmith Association has campaigned for years to encourage legislation that would require locksmiths in the Palmetto State to be licensed. However, that legislation has yet to be passed.
"You could get out of jail today, get a business license and call yourself a locksmith, and that's pretty pitiful," SCLA President Jeff Owens says.
His organization conducts extensive background checks of its members, including criminal background checks with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Beginning in January, Owens says the group will expand the background checks to a national database.
Owens says anyone wishing to hire a reputable locksmith should call the South Carolina Locksmith Association for a referral from their area at (803) 427-1301.
The organization's web address is www.sclocksmith.org.