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How can we put a stop to rogue locksmiths?

The Master Locksmiths Association is warning homeowners to be on their guard for rogue locksmiths ripping off consumers. Here it explains what to watch out for.

This is a guest post by the Master Locksmiths Association. All views expressed are its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

The Master Locksmiths Association (MLA) is the largest trade body in the UK representing the profession – a survey of our members has revealed that 66% have been called to a job after homeowners inadvertently called out a rogue locksmith over the past 12 months.

Collectively, respondents have attended more than 300 botched jobs involving a rogue locksmith over the last year and 65% of respondents said rogues are overcharging customers by £200 or more.

Consumers get in touch with us every day with stories about unscrupulous activities by people masquerading as locksmiths. At best, rogues will do a sub-standard job or overcharge after initially quoting a cheaper price in a tactic known as bait-and-switch. This is a type of retail fraud whereby consumers are enticed by a low price only to be hit with a bill that bears no resemblance to the original quote.

Experience has also told us rogues often display threatening behaviour and have even been known to withhold keys to locks they’ve fitted. Consumers need to be aware of the dangers and know how to select a reputable locksmith to ensure they don’t fall victim.

Signs of a rogue locksmith

We’ve identified five tell tale signs that you’re dealing with a rogue locksmith:

🔑 1. Calls are answered by a call centre which makes it difficult to obtain details for the locksmith doing the job. This can also mean you don’t know who is doing the work as jobs are often subcontracted.

🔑 2. The company is ranked at or towards the top of online advertising listings. As they have paid to be there, this isn’t an indication about the quality of their work.

🔑 3. Being quoted an unusually low price – often advertised online at £39, £49 or £59.

🔑 4. The locksmith is vague about their experience and they may be reluctant to provide feedback about previous jobs or recommendations.

🔑 5. Drilling is a method of destructive entry and is only used as a last resort when all other methods haven’t worked with cylinders. Many rogues start with the drill and this should ring alarm bells.

How can we put a stop to this happening?

It’s important homeowners know how they can find a reputable firm which employs insured and competent locksmiths – someone who they can trust to protect them and their home. Your first port of call should be the MLA website where they can use our search function to find their nearest MLA-approved locksmith.

Anyone who has had work carried out by a locksmith that they’re not satisfied with should complain to Trading Standards, but they can also highlight it via MLA’s website where consumers can also find advice on how to choose a vetted, inspected and qualified locksmith, why they should use an MLA approved locksmith and information on typical average prices for common jobs obtained from MLA members across the UK, to ensure they don’t get overcharged.

You can also contact the MLA directly on enquiries@locksmiths.co.uk

The locksmith industry has enjoyed a history that spans hundreds of years and yet it remains completely unregulated. Anyone can advertise as, trade as, buy locksmith tools and call themselves a locksmith, with little or no training, and without going through a thorough vetting process or providing proof they’re competent to do the job.

It’s clear more needs to be done to put a stop to rogue locksmiths. Do you think regulation would prevent homeowners being hoodwinked and left out of pocket if locksmiths needed certification in order to trade? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

This was a guest post by the Master Locksmiths Association. All views expressed were its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Comments

When I moved home five years ago I decided to change the locks, even though I know that some people do not do this and never have a problem. I encountered a problem with the main garage doors, where the lock barrels do not seem to be exchangeable. As a temporary measure I devised a simple solution that prevented the mechanism operating from outside but could easily be removed when I wanted to open a door to take out the lawnmower. I don’t keep the car in the garage. I had intended to get advice from a locksmith but have been happy with the temporary arrangement. A local friend has a key in case I manage to lock myself out so hopefully I will never need professional help to get into my home.

If I had a burglary I hope that my insurance company would be able to recommend a locksmith. Alternatively I could try Which? Trusted Traders.

Phil says:
15 April 2021

” When I moved home five years ago I decided to change the locks, even though I know that some people do not do this and never have a problem. ”

Not a bad idea. Rare possibly but I know of two occasions when the previous occupants of a house have let themselves back in, both times a woman was alone (asleep) in the house. One group helped themselves to all the food and drink which the new occupants couldn’t afford to replace. I never did hear if they ever got any redress.

People just ask for trouble – some don’t change the locks after moving in to their new home and others write the address on a label on the key fob.

It’s not always realised that the locks on garage doors are generally more easily picked or opened than the front door locks so if there is an internal communicating door inside the garage it requires extra protection.

It’s amazing how many people know when families are going away for a spell – the school, all the children’s friends, the parents workplaces, relatives, the cleaner, the delivery rounds people. I am surprised how careless some folk are in broadcasting their absences.

Even if the previous owners are honest, they may have given a key to others, and one or more estate agent may have had a full set during the sale.

Phil says:
15 April 2021

” It’s amazing how many people know when families are going away for a spell ”

Everybody on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…

We have been unable to find a locksmith unable to copy our double door locks key

Have you been given an explanation, Edward? If it’s for security reasons the author of this Conversation – Steffan George – might be able to advise.

Have you tried Timpsons or your local hardware store. I used both when I moved into my home in October 2015.Then in January 2020 I had the front and patio door replaced and used Timpsons to supply/cut/copy additional keys.

Norm says:
20 April 2021

Key ways in Hale Cheshire are expert at making key copies

Farouk says:
15 April 2021

Definitely should be regulated as it is a very important job for security.

Eddy Grabczewski says:
15 April 2021

This article doesn’t make it clear what a locksmith normally does – it just says what they do as a last resort (drilling). From my powers of deduction (!) I infer therefore that a qualified locksmith would try to unlock the door by using some other means; my guess is he/she would pick the lock first. Is that right? I’ve never hired a locksmith. I’ve always replaced all the locks to any new home I’ve bought in the past.

Philip says:
15 April 2021

Re warning sign 5: when should drilling be done, i.e.what options should be tried before drilling?

My son used to work for the lock makers Mult-T-Lock and found out that these locks are virtually unpickable. Large businesses like banks and supermarkets use them. I had all the locks on my house changed and use only one key for all of them, including padlocks. This saves me carrying round a bunch of keys like a jailer. The locks are expensive but may mean cheaper insurance and more security of mind.

About 10 years ago I got a new euro cylinder that was first that could not be bumped, can only get keys made by their approved locksmiths or them, no one in my county, it’s the flat key with dimples in but there are 2 magnets at each side to lift 2 pins that are not spring loaded. Worries me if it should go faulty as only entrance to bungalow. High security is fine until it fails, I prefer the hardwood door with 2 5 lever locks with different keys and hinge bolts we used to have.

MilesT says:
15 April 2021

Worth looking at the YouTube videos of Lockpickinglawyer and Bosnian bill. Almost all locks are pickable with right skills and tools, usually within 5 minutes

Yes indeed some really interesting videos there.

After several hours of seeing both the ingenuity of lock designers and the ingenuity of those determined to defeat these locks I have come to the conclusion that we are protected by the fact that most people are honest.

How about the Master Locksmith Accoc. set up their own accreditation scheme with all the requirements to join that have been indicated in this article? Don’t wait for ‘the government’ to do it, be proactive and get it done yourselves and promote it via Which and other such organisations. We will all then know where to go to get a fully qualified and safe locksmith, I’m sure the new business they will get will pay for the membership/ set-up fees?

I guess a lot of the solo traders with just a van and the necessary equipment and stock have been trained in a registered locksmiths and decided to set up on their own. They might not appreciate the advantages of paying to be members of the Master Locksmiths Association. I can’t see the present government setting up a regulatory structure for the trade.

“This was a guest post by the Master Locksmiths Association. All views expressed were its own and not necessarily shared by Which?”

I find it very odd that Which should send out e-mails warning customer of scams and put forward an article to then say “All views expressed were its own and not necessarily shared by Which?” i thought the whole point of subscribing to Which was for them to endorse any articles they publish or am i missing something?

Hi Caroline, we only put that wording on guest articles that appear on Which? Conversation from external organisations (you can see everyone we’ve featured here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/tag/guest/)

While it’s unlikely we’d publish stances we inherently disagree with, we do feature some topic areas where Which? doesn’t have its own formally agreed stance, which is why the ‘necessarily’ wording is there. Which? Conversation is also the only site across Which? where articles from other organisations are published, so we want to make that clear at the beginning and end, otherwise opinions/positions could end up misconstrued or erroneously attributed to Which?. I hope that helps explain 🙂

Martin Roscoe says:
29 April 2021

Hi Caroline, I agree with your comment. And I don’t particularly appreciate a trade body fear mongoring to try and leverage opinion resulting in more small businesses and tradesmen having to pay exorbitant fees to become a member of some federation just so that they can change a lock for somone. This has happend with window fitting the result is all home owners have to pay more. While the federations are making millions.

There are two problems with locksmith services: all locks have to be capable of being opened if necessary, and people who are locked out are at a disadvantage in finding a specialist outside normal hours who can get them in without wrecking the door.

I have had locks changed on new properties by proper tradesmen from established companies with a physical address and a liveried vehicle. Apart from one who fitted a cylinder night-latch of dubious origin all the locks were good makes as requested and were fitted professionally with no problems. The unbranded lock worked satisfactorily and was also as secure as the others. I have fitted locks myself to replace old ones and changed cylinders, but really complex locks with special security features would usually need to be fitted by a skilled expert because it is a precision operation.

When fitting a new door you need to employ a carpenter who can also fit all the required locks and bolts. Locksmiths generally don’t install doors or other door furniture, their main role is to open locks where no key is available and to supply replacement keys. A lot of their work is done as an emergency call-out.

Many modern locks have high-security keys that are registered with the manufacturer and only their specified agents or their own people will supply replacement keys against a unique code identified with the specific address. Such locks are extremely secure but can cause problems if the key is not available. Special techniques relevant to each type of lock need to be used and I don’t know whether all MLA-approved locksmiths are capable or authorised to deal with all types of high security locks. The composition of the door can have a major bearing on the kind of technique that will enable the lock to be opened without damage.

Most areas probably have a specialist locksmithing company that provides an emergency callout service and it is worth having their telephone number to hand in case of a lockout emergency. Standing outside your house on a cold wet night with no internet access trying to get a locksmith out is no joke; with luck there are decent neighbours who will assist and let you wait in their house until the van arrives. But it is best to be prepared . . . although not by leaving a key under the doormat or on a string behind the letterbox.

Thank you, Stefan.

The firm I have used offers all the services you have described and is an MLA member. We had a security survey when acquiring our house and had the locks on all external doors replaced. The new cylinder and mortice locks are all keyed alike according to their specific types so just two keys will open all doors except the garage and that has proved to be very convenient.

The firm is the only MLA member within twenty five miles but is within one mile of where we live and provides a 24-hour emergency access service should it be necessary. We have set up a reciprocal arrangement with some friends who live close by for assistance and support in the event of a lockout but since both of us always have our door keys on us at all times it is unlikely we shall have a problem. There is a possible risk of a handbag snatch although we regard that as low risk.

People who live in flats, terraced houses, or linked semi’s need to think before going out to do something in the front of the property and make sure they have their keys and/or their mobile phone on them in case the door slams shut behind them. Being dressed for prolonged exposure is also advisable. It’s alright if there is somebody else in the house but could be a problem if alone.

I appreciate that the advice I am giving is designed to avoid the need to use a locksmith so might not be welcomed by the trade.

MLA, not to be confused with member of legislative assembly.

As a precaution against locking myself out, I have a key safe in my garden but outside my house.

Also, once inside my house, I don’t want my locks to be so secure that I won’t be able to get out quickly in the event of a fire.

I’ve made my home super secure with multiple locks, both cylinder locks and mortice locks all thoroughly well fitted to a far higher than normal standard, and all British made to proper insurance approved standards and I always keep my keys on me all day and right next to my bed all night and if need be I, and only I can open a door and get out in seconds. And I have my own custom made external doors and frames all thoroughly rigidly well fitted by me. And I have mains powered and battery backed smoke alarms in every part of the house all linked together so if one goes off so do all the rest and I have several multi purpose type fire extinguishers all around the house. And I’ve fitted a custom made liquid tight steel mail box behind my letter box all thoroughly sealed to the door to stop any petrol being used to torch the place. And I have floodlights front and back with sensor units which I’ve customised and which are linked to other warning lights in the bedroom so I know straight away if anyone tries to go near my doors or windows. And I bet even the local filthy rich crowd with all their fancy posh houses don’t have anything like the same level of security I have. I’ve seen loads of so-called “luxury” homes with all manner of pampering features but all too often they seriously lack security, that rarely seems to be a priority with such home owners. Security means far more to me than pampering luxuries. And of course I NEVER leave ANY keys anywhere outside or with anyone else, all the spares are kept locked away inside except for one spare one for the rim latch which I carry on me separate from my bunch in case the first one snaps in the lock as I’ve had that happen before so I carry small tools in case it happens again so I can pull out the broken off piece. You can’t sneak into my place all nice and quiet, it would need serious hardware and would take ages and make loads of noise.

If an additional (Euro or “yale” type) key costs more than £3, and a replacement cylinder (with 3 keys) costs less than £6, and there’s no more than 1 keyholder whose key would need to be replaced, wouldn’t drilling appear to make economic sense, in that the outlay on materials would be less?

Hi Ron H-W, if you are going to assume that lost keys may end up being used against you, you’d probably change the cylinders whether or not entry was achieved by drilling or by picking the lock.

I’ve no direct experience, but I doubt that any difference between the time needed for drilling a lock and for picking one is going to affect a call out charge.

One of my friends and her son used to be chronic key losers. It was usually more convenient and more secure to buy and DIY fit replacement cylinders that to get any remaining keys copied at heel bar prices.

Sunslave says:
16 April 2021

Firstly, the MLA does not give their email address in the article. Silly?
Secondly, when moving house I have always changed the barrels in the front door locks myself (obtained from hardware stores) and kept the old ones with keys for future use.
Once I had a Norwegian made lock with keys that had a very slim barrel and was pocket friendly and I understand was hyper-secure. Cannot remember the name unfortunately. Somebody might refresh me.

Pushpa Amin says:
16 April 2021

Everyone could rest assured if the locksmith was A Registered
Locksmith.

When I moved to my current home, the first thing I did was install new double glazed windows and doors. I would recommend you use an accredited locksmith who advertises in your local magazine, quoting their full address and landline as well as mobile number. Chances are if they live within close proximity and are easily contactable, they will be genuine.

It is true that a locksmith who is a member of the Master Locksmiths Association can be relied on to be well-trained and highly-skilled in a wide range of relevant techniques. The MLA’s vetting, training, qualification, and inspection regime no doubt ensures that their members are competent locksmiths. I doubt if this can test the diligence and honesty of practitioners, however, so there will always be some underlying concerns.

The compulsory DBS checks on the MLA’s members can only reveal history. There are rogues in every profession so I would suggest that those members employed by a member company are likely to be more trustworthy than those who are self employed; the difference might only be marginal and the incidence of security breaches exceedingly low but it can never be ruled out absolutely any more than a lock can be 100% secure.

I am surprised the insurance industry doesn’t have more influence on home security – other than specifying certain products to conform with the relevant British Standards. But perhaps it suits it not to.

If the insurers arrange for replacement locks and fittings, do they always use an MLA registered firm?

As I mentioned above, I would call my insurance company if I had a break-in – as I am required to – and I hope that it would use a MLA registered company.

There are many factors affecting security. A friend was burgled a couple of years ago, thanks to the French windows being glazed with toughened glass, which can be broken with a sharp object. She now has laminated glass, which should offer more protection. For years it was popular to have doors with multi-point security locks but the weakness was that doors could be lifted out with a spade, or so I have read. Early double-glazed windows had external beading and panes could be removed to gain access. My neighbours could lock their gates but never do so. Many have alarms but never use them. I agree that insurers could do more but it might be necessary to inspect properties and assess the weaknesses.

False entry.

Multi-point locking is still a common and good feature of external doors, but full security depends on the quality and fit of the hinge components. They should be able to prevent uplift of outwards opening doors without internal access to the fitting. The length of travel of the vertical locking bars and degree of slack in the system is probably also critical. As with any product, economy models usually have some deficiencies and it is certainly worth thoroughly checking the mechanism of patio and conservatory doors before spending the large amount they cost. Better quality and fitting details probably add only a small amount to the overall cost of installation.

I doubt toughened glass would deter a burglar. A tap with a centre punch would shatter it easily. Toughened glass is fitted for safety rather than security. If you really want protection against entry then you should use laminate glass, I would suggest.

Thanks John. I have edited the post to make it clearer, and corrected the second ‘toughened’ to read ‘laminated’.

Malcolm – My friend had obtained quotations as requested by the insurance company but knowing about the insecurity of toughened glass I suggested that she should ask for revised quotations for using laminated glass instead and to be prepared for the insurance company to ask her to pay the additional cost. I do not know why neither of the companies suggested laminated glass.

Toughened glass is fine for internal glass doors, shower doors, etc. where security is not an issue. I believe it’s still used on car side windows because it can be broken to allow rescue of occupants after an accident.

Building Regulations require the use of safety glass in specified situations, illustrated in the attached. http://tufwellglass.co.uk/view-article.html/33/is-toughened-glass-necessary

Although from across the pond this gives quite a good appraisal of laminated vs toughened glass in vehicles. I don’t know whether any regulations require toughened glass in European models. Generally toughened looks the right option but it offers no security to break-ins as I found to my cost a few years ago. https://info.glass.com/laminated-vs-tempered-car-side-windows/

I suppose an internal retractable telescopic grille is the only thing that would provide ultimate security for an outward opening patio door or large windows. Stylish versions are available and the smarter parts of big cities seem to have good displays. It’s important to make sure that if fitted to exit doors they can be opened easily in an emergency.

How about 10 or 12mm polycarbonate? You can whack that with a sledgehammer and still not break it.

It scratches easily and is likely to be too thick for the frame, although a single sheet might be adequate insulation instead of double glazing.

We legislate about using ordinary in house windows and doors for personal safety, but no such requirements exist for greenhouses and coldframes. Just as likely to be a hazard, particularly if children ride their bike in the garden.

I frequently walk past a van marked ‘Lockforce’. It seems that the company operates a franchise system and some of their members are MLA-registered, but I can see nothing that says that this is mandatory.

I think franchising is a common aspect of the trade. I think people should also be cautious of going straight to one of the multi-trade aggregator websites that list scores of firms but give no clues to the capability range or competence of the personnel listed. They tend to focus on price and speed of turn-out, neither of which can be relied upon once a booking has been made and they attend at their convenience and con the customer into paying a higher price – knowing there will be relief all round once they have gained entry.

There are several MLA-registered companies fairly near to me (10-15 miles) and MLA provides contact details. I am familiar with one of the companies, even though I have never used them, so they could be my first choice.

I looked at Which? Trusted Traders and that gave one result – Keytech in Poole. This seems to be a franchise with one or more company nearby in my local town, but I cannot just look up these companies and would have to request a callback. Before lifting the phone I prefer to try and find out about companies.

Simon H says:
29 April 2021

I locked myself out and needed to get back in the house. Nobody in the family had the right spare keys as I had changed the locks the day before. I decided the best course of action was to get a locksmith to help me.
I googled “Locksmith near me” on my mobile and, on top of the page, the number one position found N Prime Line Ltd’s advert, which linked to [edit]. The landing page offered.
• Emergency Door Opening
• At your door in 15 minutes
• Warranty Period
• Daily Medical Checks
• From £49
I talked through my situation and requirement with the lady who answered the phone. After several attempts, she confirmed it would cost £65 to open a Yale cylinder lock P-6KP1109-CH Replacement Rim Cylinder.
The next step was a text (sic) from a mobile 0XXX8 010X47
“Hi I’m the locksmith technician i can be there in the next 25-35 minutes
Let me know if is ok for you
Thank you Arpi”

“Arpi” duly arrived, inspected the lock and told me
• “it cannot be picked.”
• “I have to drill it.”
• “It’s going to cost £276 + a new lock at £80.”

I decided to go ahead with the “drill it option”, which took less than 5 minutes and left a mess everywhere because I felt, in the moment, I had no other option.

I think I have been scammed using the Bait and Switch technique described on the Master Locksmiths Association (MLA) site. I wish I had seen the “How to Spot a Rogue Locksmith advert” page, as my experience seems to be a perfect example. I will be pleased to support any ongoing campaign to raise awareness within the general public.

[Moderator: this post has been edited to remove a URL that we could not verify as legitimate].

Israeli lawyer Moshe Strugano (Attorney – Moshe Strugano and Co Law firm), an expert in the “formation of offshore companies” says, Since last few days, I was planning to install an effective locking system in my office premise, which would assure about the safety and security of all confidential documents needed for accomplishment of our business deals. Hence, I have called my locksmith friend named Jamie, who provided best possible locksmith solution for maintaining the security of necessary documents.

Moshe – Does your locksmith Jamie operate in the UK and is he a member of our Master Locksmiths Association, or is he based in Tel Aviv? If so, I’m not sure we can take advantage of his expertise at this distance. It’s good to know that people in other jurisdictions are corresponding with Which? Conversation .

No. Not in the UK. I saw this conversation, so gave my feedback here about locksmith. Nothing else. Your site is awesome. Thanks for replying