CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - When people have to call a locksmith, it's usually for an emergency. They've locked their keys in their car, or have lost a key to their home. They need a quick response from someone who can be fair and trustworthy.
Charlotte Wise found herself in that situation this summer. Wise was leaving for vacation and realized some keys to her home were missing. She searched online and called a locksmith that she thought had good reviews.
"He spent the afternoon changing the locks. I should have checked them, but I didn't," said Wise.
After spending $1,000, Wise said she noticed the next day that some of the locks were faulty. Her receipt listed no information about the company. Her complaints went unanswered.
Wise felt uneasy and searched online for a different locksmith to come out and fix her doors.
"I was on vacation in the mountains and she was pretty frantic," said Lock Monkeys owner George Rice about the day he heard from Wise. "She said I just had a locksmith leave here and he charged me a thousand dollars," said Rice, who agreed to go out and assess the damage for free.
She paid Rice a fraction of what she spent on the previous call and had her locks rekeyed by Rice, who is a licensed, bond and insured locksmith.
"Well it's like night and day," said Wise about the two experiences. She beats herself up about the first transaction, but Rice says he hears similar complaints almost daily from customers who don't use licensed, bonded and insured locksmiths.
"Why didn't I check these things?" said Wise. "It wouldn't have taken that much of an effort to educate myself," she said about the information and reviews available online.
Rice said he takes it personally to hear negative stories about locksmiths who do bad work or overcharge. He recommends all customers try to find a locksmith through word of mouth and check multiple sites for reviews. Angie's List, Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau are just a few places to find reputable companies.
He also recommends customers ask to see the locksmith's license, and paperwork showing he is bonded and insured.
It can get tricky though. In North Carolina, locksmiths are required to be licensed. They have to take a test and pass a background check.
In South Carolina, no license is required; however, customers can still ask to see a retail license and the paperwork for insurance and bonding.
Rice would like to see more oversight in the Palmetto State. He says unlicensed workers could easily take advantage of customers and even put their safety at risk.
Both Carolinas do have professional locksmith organizations to which a business owner should be able to show proof of membership.
Rice says it's important when it comes to allowing someone to work in your home and help protect your most valuable asset. His work vehicle also has his license number and information clearly visible on the outside.
Wise couldn't agree more. "They have a key to your house basically and it's really not safe," she said.
Wise said next time, she'll be prepared to ask more questions and get more answers. She hopes other customers do the same.
Rice gives her credit for taking extra steps after the bad experience. Wise says she got reimbursed by her credit card company, tracked the locksmith agency down to an out-of-state address, complained to the Attorney General's Office and called police.
No criminal charges have been filed. Wise hopes no one else will be taken advantage of during their time of need.