When you call a locksmith, who really shows up?
WILSONVILLE, Ore. - You trust them with the keys to your house and your car. But should you trust all locksmiths? The next time you're locked out, the person who responds may not be who you think he is.
Ryan Obermire and his mother run Wilsonville Lock and Security, also known as Wilsonville Lock Works. It's a small, legitimate business that seems to be getting bigger and bigger.
Obermire said his business address is listed under the locksmith section of the local phone book using different company names about 20 times. He's been getting complaints from customers - just not his customers.
"We've had, in fact, customers come to us complaining about work that we never did," Obermire said.
Obermire said his store is the only locksmith business in Wilsonville with an actual storefront.
It appears that the apparent scam may be new to Clackamas County. A look at the 2008 Clackamas County phone book shows only about two columns of locksmith businesses. The current phone book holds more than four pages of locksmiths.
Just for Wilsonville, a town of 18,000 people, there are 40 locksmiths listed - 20 with a shopping strip's address on Southwest Town Center Loop East and the other 20 with shopping strip's address on Southwest Wilsonville.
But these newly-listed locksmiths are strangely familiar. A year and a half ago, the KATU Problem Solvers investigated locksmiths using fake local addresses in phone books. The scammers were using addresses from everything from Indian food restaurants to vacant lots. (VIEW THOSE STORIES BY CLICKING THE RELATED CONTENT LINKS ABOVE)
And locksmiths seemed to be upcharging customers, based on how much they thought they could get.
When we confronted one of those locksmiths back then, he admitted the company really was based in New York, and that it used local phone numbers and addresses so that people felt safer.
So we called one of the locksmiths using Ryan Obermire's Wilsonville address for help with a lockout. The dispatcher who answered agreed and did not correct us when we asked if we'd called Wilsonville Lock Works. She said help was on the way.
The person who showed up also agreed that he was from the local Wilsonville store, but he said most of its technicians were mobile. Once we informed him that we were reporting on a locksmith story, the man refused to give his name or any information about his real employer. And he denied that the address listed in the phone book for his employer was bogus. He then ducked inside his car - a rental, we later determined - and drove off.
We later called the locksmith phone number again. The operator tells us that the locksmith company has an account with the mail store in the strip mall. But we talked to the owners of the PostNet store in that strip mall, and they say no locksmith has an account with them.
The apparent locksmith scam even caught Oregon's Attorney General by surprise. We asked him if he thought the locksmiths' actions were a scam, even though they were providing an actual service.
"That is deeply disturbing," Oregon Attorney General John Kroger told KATU News. "We'd want to look at it and talk to the people and see why they've done that. It very well could be."
The KATU Problem Solvers has turned over all of our research to the attorney general for review.
In the meantime, here are some tips for finding a local locksmith:
- Do not rely on the phone book or the Internet to find a local company. Verify the local address and phone number.
- Check the locksmith's license number with the Oregon Construction Contractor's Board. Any locksmith who is doing work on your house is required to have one.
- Keep the name and phone number of a reputable locksmith in your wallet or in your cell phone address book, in case you lock your keys in your car. That way, you are not relying on directory assistance to find a locksmith in an emergency.