- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | Sean Hagan’s 84-year-old mother lives alone in Silver Spring, and as the victim of a common locksmithing scam, shows why Maryland recently started regulating locksmiths.

He said she called a company listed in the Yellow Pages that advertised it was a “locally owned and operated” business. She was quoted a price to repair a deadbolt lock, but Mr. Hagan said the repairman charged hundreds of dollars more than the quote and hundreds of dollars more than what the job should’ve cost at a reputable locksmith.

“They just see someone who’s older and see an opportunity to take an advantage,” Mr. Hagan said. “Here’s what’s in the back of my mother’s mind now: This guy was in my house, he’s a locksmith, now he knows how to get in,” he said.

Mr. Hagan has called, faxed and sent a certified letter to the business’ supposedly local address, but he said it appears the company doesn’t actually have offices in Maryland.

The Maryland Locksmiths Act took effect Oct. 1, but Jay Hutchins, who directed legislative and regulatory affairs for the Maryland Department of Labor at that time, said enforcing the bill would take time.

“With such limited resources right now with this fiscal environment, we’ll have a lag in terms of implementation,” Mr. Hutchins said. He is now the department’s executive director for five professional licensing boards.

Charles Gibson Jr., executive director of the Associated Locksmiths of America, said the scam is common. He said out-of-state companies buy large ads to make themselves seem local, and they create aliases using false addresses and phone numbers. But, in reality, he said, they’re not local, and often not even legitimate locksmiths.

“In actuality, the victims frequently are calling out-of-state operations that are not locksmith companies at all,” Mr. Gibson said of the scam Mr. Hagan’s mother fell prey to, costing her $527.

Hearing of such schemes angers John Yates of Woodwardville, an Anne Arundel County locksmith who pursued October’s legislation to help consumers find legitimate locksmiths among lockpicks and crooks.

Without the law’s enforcement, he said, “The only thing that stops [an unscrupulous locksmith] from stealing from you is honor, ethics and trust.”

The law requires locksmiths in Maryland to have a special license. One can’t get the license without a clean criminal record, photo ID and being monitored by an oversight committee.

Until the law is fully implemented, Marylanders can call the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to learn whether a business is legitimate.

Mr. Yates said he’s going to work to make sure people know the law has been passed. He also said the state leaders who sponsored the law may create best practices for locksmiths to do legitimate work.

Angie Barnett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland, said her organization hears many complaints from consumers who were victimized by a locksmith that wanted their name and credit card number before even doing any work. Then, she said costs double or even triple when the locksmith gets the work done.

“Consumers who generally find themselves in these situations have an immediate need for the service, due to calls being placed on the weekend, late at night or in unfamiliar areas - therefore, feeling forced to pay the higher cost,” she said.

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