Locksmith companies accused of taking advantage of consumers who are desperate for help

They use false addresses to attract customers

TAMPA BAY, Fla. - I-Team Investigator Jackie Callaway discovered there's really nothing in place to stop locksmith companies from taking advantage of you!

They are accused of weaving a web of deceit and overcharging customers.

The local numbers they list are not really local and customers who call believe they are dialing a neighborhood business based on a false address.

Unsuspecting bay area residents are often desperate by the time they call for help.

We caught these locksmiths quoting locked out homeowners one price then doubling and tripling the charge after they inspect the lock.

How do they get away with it?

Because there are no regulations covering locksmiths in Florida. Consumer advocates say the biggest danger is to the consumer.

Carmela Salerno's experience sparked our investigation. "I thought it would be faster to call someone local."

This Sun City Center resident locked herself out of her utility room then turned to the phonebook for someone local.

Locks and locksmiths lists a Sun City Center address and phone number. "I was quoted $35 and then $25 an hour."

Carmela insists the dispatcher quoted her $60 dollars but then the man who showed up charged $150 dollars.

"He says you think I am going to come out here for $60 and I said that is what I was quoted."

Turns out there is no Locks and Locksmiths as listed on Club Manor Drive. The company appears to have at least five alternate names and bogus addresses in Sun City Center alone. And all six numbers appear to lead to the same out of state dispatch center.

Sun City Center residents C.P. Kramarsky and Andrea Peterson agreed to let us set up undercover cameras in their homes.

Peterson says Locks and Locksmiths gave her an estimate of $55 to unlock her back door.

Two and a half hours later, two techs showed up. It took them less than 10 minutes to get in the door but the $55 dollar estimate turned into a $164 bill.

"He just said it was the kind of lock it was."

The techs leave Peterson an invoice without a company name or address. Then she calls two different lock smiths.

"What is your fee to get me in, $50 dollars? Sounds cool."

In both cases the technicians show up in under an hour, unlock her door with in minutes and charge what they quoted, between $50 and $60.

In another instance, she was told it'd be $20 service charge and then $25 to unlock it.

One of the same technicians from Andrea's house unlocked C.P.'s back door in a matter of minutes but the $45 quote increased to a $125 charge.

"He said a $25 lock is something that is real cheap and this is apparently an older more sturdy lock," she said.

ABC Action News reporter Jackie Callaway caught up with one of the technicians we captured on camera at both homes.

"I am Jackie Callaway with ABC action news. How are you doing? You are the locksmith?"

"Yeah," the person replied.

 "People say your company is quoting one thing, but then you get to the house and charge double or triple," Callaway asked.

"When you call it is $29 and up per lock," the businessperson replied.

"But these people are being quoted $50 to $60 and are being charged $150 and $165," Callaway said.

Lance is the name on his shirt, but we don't know if that is his real name because he refused to give us any information about himself or who he works for.

Callaway asked, "You have a legitimate business and you won't even give the name of the company?"

The businessperson responded, "I won't because you have blinded sided me."

It's close to impossible to track down locksmiths like these or find out who they work for because remember, there are only 15 states required to regulate locksmiths and Florida is not one of them. It's not a requirement that they be licensed either.

"There are no background checks, no criminal records are looked into," Pat Sheehan, President of the West Coast LockSmith Association said.

Sheehan, supports legislation that would require licenses for lock smiths.

"So that the state would have some authority to step in, particularly when our senior citizens have been abused," Sheehan said. 

Callaway called the dispatch center for locks and locksmiths but was hung up on when she asked to speak to a manager.

The Better Business Bureau has dozens of locksmith related complaints but says the business names this particular group is using are too generic to track.

For three straight years, lawmakers have tried and failed to push bills through that would require licenses, training and back ground checks.

Advocates are hoping to get a bill sponsored next year. So how can you find a locksmith you can trust?

Click here for more information.

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