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Unlicensed Locksmiths Take Advantage Of Consumers

Unlicensed Locksmiths Take Advantage Of Consumers

CREATED May 6, 2009

Have you ever locked your keys in your car? If you have, you know that helpless feeling. So what do you do?

Most people call a locksmith and usually will find one in the phone book or by going online.

But now NewsChannel 5 Investigates has gone undercover. And consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus shows us why you need to be careful about just who you ask to open your door.

The first locksmith we called told us he worked for Dependable Locks. When we talked to him over the phone, he told us it wouldn't cost more than $99 to open our door. When he showed up, he tried to charge us a lot more.

When we tried to ask him about this, he headed straight for his car. He's one of the locksmiths we found in the Nashville area who don't want you to know what he and others are doing to consumers.

But our undercover investigation found it could easily happen to you if you suddenly find yourself locked out and need help.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates Locksmiths

We had two women call different numbers that were advertised either in the phone book or online.

The first company we called told us it would be $39 plus an additional charge that depended on the type of lock we had.

But, thirty minutes later, an unmarked van pulled up and after the guy took a quick look at our car, he told us we had a tough lock so it would cost an extra hundred dollars to open.

He explained, "It's complicated. But I give you a good price because I told you over the phone it wouldn't be that much. But it should be $145."

Andy Phelps is a locksmith who is also a past president of the Middle Tennessee Locksmiths Association. And he says of this scenario, "They're just saying basically, 'I'm going to take as much money from you as I can.'"

Phelps says the type of lock you have doesn't matter, that all car doors open the same way. And, he says most reputable locksmith companies in Nashville will charge you no more than $50 to $60 dollars to open a door, nowhere near what that first locksmith tried to charge us.

Yet, when our undercover producer protested his high price telling him, "That's $150 total."

He quickly lowered his price and offered, "Let's do $125? This car should be like $160 total."

Andy Phelps' reaction, "They're scamming them big time."

Phelps is one of the locksmiths who helped get a law passed last year that he says was supposed to protect consumers from unscrupulous companies. The law requires locksmiths be licensed by the state, have their license number on their vehicle and carry their license with them.

We asked the first locksmith we called about his license. Kraus said, "Can I see your license, please?" But he didn't show us a license. He quickly got into his car and sped off.

It turns out, he doesn't have a license, and neither does the company he works for.

That company is called Dependable Locks. It's based in Florida. And our investigation found here in Tennessee it advertises under more than a dozen different names, including the second company we called.

Like the first guy who showed up, this locksmith was also driving an unmarked car and didn't have ID. And it quickly became apparent that he'd heard what had happened with the first guy and was suspicious of us from the start.

Our undercover producer asked to see his business card shortly after he arrived.

He then immediately picked up his tools to leave and said, "Ma'am, I'm trying, really. If you want you can call someone else. You seem to be asking me too many questions."

Then he spotted Kraus and her camera and made a beeline for his car. As he was getting in, Kraus asked him, "Can I see your license?" His response, "No."

And as he headed out of the parking lot, he asked Kraus, "Why can't you turn off the camera?"

Kraus explained, "Because I'd like some answers. You're holding yourself out as a reputable licensed locksmith."

To that, he replied, "Ma'am, I didn't do anything wrong."

But the company, we found, is breaking the law in its advertising. We found more than three dozen listings under the name simply "locksmith."  The phone numbers are all local, but call them and you're connected to the same call-center in Florida.

And the company's advertised addresses, we found, are really for places like the Pancake Pantry restaurant in Hillsboro Village and, get this, there's even one that used the address of the Metro police headquarters.

When we called Locksmith Depot which advertises locksmith services for just $29, guess who showed up? The same guy who told us a week earlier he worked for another company.

Of course, as you've probably guessed by now, he tried to charge us more than the advertised price.

He told our second undercover producer, "It's $95 to unlock it, plus the $29 service call." And we tried to ask him about what he was doing, we didn't have much luck getting an answer out of him.

Kraus stated, "You're operating illegally in the state of Tennessee." His response, "No comment."

Kraus tried asking, "Why won't you talk to us?" Again, "No comment."

So how do you keep this from happening to you? It doesn't hurt to have a reputable and licensed locksmith already in mind, just in case, you're ever locked out.

But, if you don't and you're calling a company you're not familiar with, make sure you ask questions. Ask how much it's going to cost over the phone and confirm that amount when the locksmith arrives and before he starts work.

And if he tries to charge you more than you're willing to pay, simply refuse.

The state is supposed to be cracking down on unscrupulous locksmiths like these. But, the problem is, we found, the state isn't.

Tuesday night at 10, we tell you who we found working as locksmiths who shouldn't be. And we'll tell you why the state isn't doing more to keep you and your money safe.

To find out whether an individual or company has a locksmith license with the state of Tennessee, click here.

To find out more about the Tennessee Locksmith Licensing Program, click here.

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