Phoenix woman 'locked' into paying huge locksmith bill

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- When you're locked out of your car or your home, many people tend to panic and call the first number they find on their search engine. That's what a Phoenix woman did, and she says it was a mistake.

"They took a drill and they drilled this lock out," says Erica Stevens, who has brand new locks on her front door. That’s because she recently lost her keys, and had no way of getting back into her North Phoenix home. She did what most of us would do, and called for help.

My Phoenix Locksmith is the website that Erica says popped up on a search engine. So she called. “I gave him my phone number and I asked him, the first gentleman, what's the price? He said $35.

While Erica waited for the locksmith to arrive, she went to a hardware store and actually bought new locks that the guy could install when he got there. The cost for that, she says, was only $20, and eventually, that locksmith did arrive. "He looked at my door; didn't really give me a price. I told him it started at $35 he said yes," she says.

Still thinking she would be charged $35, Erica was shocked when the locksmith installed the hardware she purchased and handed her the bill. "He ended up charging me about $400."

$370.52 to be exact. And to be clear, that was just to install the two locks that Erica had already purchased at a hardware store. "He didn't even put it on right," she says.

The invoice she got doesn't even have the locksmith's name, or contain any information about the company.  "I said, why is it costing me this much money? I don't understand; it took you five minutes? And he said, well, it depends on the pins in your door, in the lock, and I was thinking it has nothing to do with pins because you drilled the lock out."

"My first thing in my mind is I thought she got ripped off," says Robert Vallelunga, who owns Acme Locksmith, and is licensed with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors. He's the first to admit that the industry can be a little shady. And he says consumers like Erica need to be careful. "A job like that, any reputable company would've been under $100 during standard time, standard service area."

Chasing down locksmiths who reportedly overcharge is nothing new to 3 On Your Side. In fact, you might remember a previous 3 On Your Side encounter with a locksmith who charged a customer almost $1,000 for a job that many in the industry say shouldn't have cost more than a couple hundred bucks.

LOCKSMITH: “You can call and check it out.”
HARPER: “I've already talked to him he's really mad at you. In fact, he's putting out these fliers saying look out for phony locksmiths. That's you.”
LOCKSMITH: “That's me?  No, you can check it out.”
HARPER: “I've already checked it out. I’m talking to you but you're running away."

3 On Your Side called the number that Erica dialed for a locksmith, but the guy on the other end told us he knew nothing about Erica or installing locks for her. Erica says that's certainly not true and says she has learned a very valuable lesson when looking for a locksmith. “I was charged three times the amount that I should have been charged," she says.

Locksmiths are not licensed or regulated in Arizona so this is what you need to do. Take some time to research and find a reputable locksmith, then program that number into your phone and write it down somewhere. That way, when you need a locksmith, all your work is done.
For previous 3 On Your Side locksmith reports visit the links below.