Why Isn't State Doing More About Locksmiths?
If you don't already have a good locksmith in mind, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has found you could end up with an unscrupulous one when you need help.
Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus went to the state to find out why more isn't being done to stop this.
Our undercover investigation found you never know who might show up when you call a locksmith or what they might try to do.
Locksmiths we called gave us one price over the phone, but then tried to charge a lot more when they arrived. One locksmith first gave us a quote of $39 dollars, but then later told us it would cost us nearly a hundred dollars more.
When our undercover producer protested, he offered, "Let's do $125. This car should be like $160 total."
Andy Phelps is a former president of the Middle Tennessee Locksmith Association. Last year, he helped push through a state law that requires locksmiths be licensed.
Phelps says, "Our focus was to protect the consumer."
The law says locksmiths need to be trained, pass a test and a criminal background check.
Kraus asked Phelps, "Is the state doing enough to protect consumers?"
Phelps says, "I don't think so."
Phelps is a licensed locksmith. And he says what our undercover investigation exposed, shows the law clearly isn't working.
According to Phelps, "It tells me they're not enforcing it."
Christopher Garrett, spokesman for the Tennessee State Commerce and Insurance Department which runs the state's Locksmith Licensing Program, says that's not so.
After we described to him what our undercover investigation uncovered, Garrett responded, "Anytime you have that going on, that's just the type of thing that the licensing program is cracking down on."
Yet, our investigation found that the state has actually done very little to stop unlicensed locksmiths.
More than 60 complaints have been filed with the state since the program began last summer. Yet, the state has only cited one company for operating without a license.
Consumers have filed more complaints about one company, Dependable Locks, than any other company.
We found that all of the locksmiths who answered our calls for help and then tried to overcharge us work for this company. We also found that Dependable Locks is not licensed in Tennessee and neither are the locksmiths who work for the company.
Yet, we found nothing seems to be stopping the company's employees from continuing to violate the law.
Karen Anderson has a hard time believing that.
She tells NewsChannel 5, "They're still operating. So what do we do?"
Anderson says she was a victim of Dependable Locks recently after she locked her keys in her truck. The locksmith, she says, tried to charge her $175 to open her door.
"I think the state should do a lot more to protect us. Definitely," she says.
The state insists it would do more if only it could find these unlicensed locksmiths.
The Commerce and Insurance Department's Garrett explains, "There just isn't the manpower to go out and say, 'I'm going to look up these five companies today and go out and check and see if they're licensed.'"
But we didn't have any trouble finding them.
All we did was a simple search on Google for "locksmith" and "Nashville" and we found a whole list of companies that are not licensed.
Kraus asked Garrett, "How hard would it be for your investigators to do that?"
Garrett admitted, "Yeah, ideally in a perfect world an investigator would have just that thing to do all day."
But he went to onto explain that it just can't be done.
"It's not possible. It's not realistic, given the resources that a state agency has to work with," Garrett adds.
Locksmith Andy Phelps says that's no excuse. He says if consumers are going to be protected; the state needs to do more.
Phelps goes on, "The lawmakers say there was a need for us to be licensed and have the background check and have certain education. But the state agencies that are overseeing this are, 'eh (shrugs), we're doing the best we can.'"
It turns out the state has only 15 investigators who work for nearly two dozen regulatory boards, including the Locksmiths. So they're stretched pretty thin.
The state has proposed consent orders in 16 cases, but so far, there's no final agreement in any of them.
Tennessee has not taken any action yet against Dependable Locks.
But other states have. In fact, last month, the attorney general in Missouri sued Dependable Locks for fraud, deception, misrepresentation and false advertising. According to the complaint, the company is doing the same things there as we found them doing here.
If you feel like you've been ripped off by a locksmith, you can file a complaint with the state, click here.
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.