Undercover investigation shows locksmith pricing may not be what it seems
If you ever get locked out of your house or car and need a locksmith beware. The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning that getting someone to pick your lock could leave you deeply out of pocket.
Many locksmith ads you click online may not be what they seem. The pricing could look like a real deal but once a locksmith shows up at your door to do the job you could end up paying a whole lot more than you expected.
When Shevonne Leslie locked herself out of her apartment she went online to find a locksmith to pick her lock, and the prices on Locksmith in Vancouver's website site looked like a good deal.
The company posted a rate sheet indicating a $15 service call, plus $35 for a house lockout, plus more for complex locks and labour.
“When I heard 35 we thought, amazing, let’s go with them,” Leslie said, “When he came to my door, it took him 10 seconds."
She says when the locksmith showed up he went to work using two locking picking tools to get it.
She got billed $236 for a quick lock pick and she says the locksmith demanded cash, following her to the bank.
"You're vulnerable, you're desperate, it's an emergency," she explained.
We showed the website and rate sheet to master locksmith Terry Whin-Yates.
"It should have cost, by their rate sheet, it should have been $50. We charge and we tell people on the phone $95 to $150. That's the cost to open your door. And we don't care if it's a high security lock," he explained.
Whin-Yates assisted the McLaughlin on Your Side team to put the locksmith company to the test by installing a simple and easy to pick residential lock on a condo door in Surrey. It was so simple, after a quick lesson our producer was able to pick the lock in two minutes.
We then set up hidden cameras and made the call to the website that Shevonne Leslie had called, LocksmithinVancouver.
The offer was the same deal as Leslie was told, with higher prices for a more difficult lock. And we were told a technician would call back to come to our location. He did.
"It's 15 and 35 and up. It depends on the lock if a problem," said the locksmith on the phone, “Depends on security pins and the lock."
When the locksmith arrived he started to work out the price. He told our producer it’s a five pin medium security lock and that if she paid cash there would be no tax.
“So can you pick it?” asked the producer.
“I’ll try,” said the locksmith.
“And what will that cost?” the producer asked.
After getting out his phone to punch in some information, the locksmith informed our producer it would be $255.
“Because it’s medium security lock,” he said, “It’s for the service call and to pick the lock.”
“But you said it was 15 plus 35,” questioned the producer.
“Thirty-five and up,” said the locksmith, “It’s dependent on this stuff, file cabinet, mailbox, night, 3 pins, 4 pins, 5 pins, high security.”
After agreeing to the price, the locksmith started to pick the lock. He was able to get into the suite in 1 minute and 40 seconds. But when he opened the door, Ross McLaughlin was waiting to speak with him.
“Hi there, we’re CTV,” said McLaughlin, “Why are you charging $255? It’s not a difficult lock and it says 15 service call and $35 on the website.”
“And up,” said the locksmith, “It depends on the lock.”
“That’s an easy lock,” McLaughlin said.
“No, it’s not easy. Five pins, medium security,” he explains.
The locksmith showed McLaughlin his security license, which showed he’s a locksmith under supervision and then he called his boss.
"Why are you charging so much?" McLaughlin asked into the phone.
"It's none of your business," said the boss.
"Well it is our business because we're going to have to pay the price," explained McLaughlin.
"Well, you're going to pay it because the customer needs to pay. No one was threatened for God's sake to pay that," the boss said.
We showed the undercover video to Evan Kelly with the Better Business Bureau.
"To me that was absolute bait and switch," said Kelly, “But who’s going to argue with him at that point if they actually need to get inside their place.”
Kelly says the practice is misleading, but it happens all the time.
When we tried to pay the locksmith with cash, the boss told us over the phone that he didn’t want our money.
The BBB says offering to avoid tax by paying cash is a deceptive practice and if the price seems low or too good to be true that's another red flag that it could end up costing more.
So who regulates the locksmith industry?
BC’s Consumer Protection Agency says it could possibly investigate deceptive practices if there's a pattern of behaviour.
This article is the first in a series. Read Part Two here.