3 On Your Side

Unlocking the truth about phony locksmiths

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After receiving a quote of $55, Skye Johnson was charged $289. (Source: 3TV) After receiving a quote of $55, Skye Johnson was charged $289. (Source: 3TV)
"Locksmith Charley" says you should have the name and number of a reputable locksmith handy before you ever need it. (Source: 3TV) "Locksmith Charley" says you should have the name and number of a reputable locksmith handy before you ever need it. (Source: 3TV)

It's an "uh-oh moment" you hope never happens but inevitably does -- locking your keys in your car or house.

Before you pick up a phone to call a locksmith, 3 On Your Side tells you how not to get ripped off.
When you lock yourself out, your first instinct is to get on your phone and search for a locksmith. That can be the worst thing you can do because you don't know exactly who will be showing up.

3 On Your Side has confronted locksmiths several times.

Gary Harper: "He's really mad at you."In fact, he's putting out these fliers saying look out for phony locksmiths. That's you."

Alleged Locksmith: "That's me? No, you can check it out."

Gary Harper: "I've already checked it out. That's why I'm here talking to you, but you're running from me." 

When 3 On Your Side first aired this story, Gary Harper caught up with a guy who claimed to be a locksmith. After doing a minor job for a consumer, he stuck her with a $1,000 bill.

Gary Harper: "The locksmith we talked to says this should not have cost almost $1,000."

Alleged Locksmith: "I don't care. Every locksmith has different prices, and this is the price of the company that I work with." 

Price gouging in the locksmith industry has been a problem for years, and it doesn't look like it's going away anytime soon.
Just ask Sky Johnson, a 17-year-old high school student.

“He charged my bank account for $289 instead of $55, which is what I originally signed for," she said.

Johnson recently locked her keys and her softball bag in the trunk of her car at a Tempe softball field.  
After calling around for a locksmith, she found herself talking to a company called 24/7 Locksmith Services. She said a rep told her it would only cost $55 to come out and get her keys for her trunk.
She agreed, but once the job was done, she had sticker shock 

"He came back and handed me my credit card and two receipts with an additional $180 charge," Johnson recalled.

Johnson said it's the way she was duped that consumers need to know about.

She says when the locksmith first arrived, she handed over her debit card as requested and signed a receipt for $55.
However, after the job was done and after she had signed the receipt, the so-called locksmith tacked on all kinds of additional fees totaling $289. That's certainly a lot more than the $55 quote she was given.
Charley Eastwood isn't surprised at all.

"You called out this criminal that did this or did that and inflated the prices on the work order after he ran the customer’s credit card with them thinking it's going to be one price, now it's exponentially higher," he said.

Eastwood is a professional locksmith who's known in the industry as "Locksmith Charley."
He's been in the business for 25 years and says what happened to Johnson is a common problem.
"But when someone is given one price and then when whoever comes out is trying to browbeat you into paying something exponentially higher, that's called bait and switch, and that's consumer fraud," he explained.

Locksmith Charley says to avoid becoming a victim, you should have the name and number of a reputable locksmith handy before you ever need it.
For instance, plug it into your cell phone or write it down somewhere.
And then there's signing the paperwork

"If they say the service call is $55, put your signature on the line immediately below that line item. Then if they try and add stuff later, you can say, 'Hey, I only signed for the first line item. They added all this other crap on later, I didn't agree to it,'"

As for the company Johnson called, 24/7 Locksmith Services, they told 3 On Your Side over the phone that Johnson is making the whole thing up and abruptly hung up.
The 3 On Your Side team couldn't help but notice the toll-free number listed for 24/7 Locksmith Services is the exact same number on the shirt of that so-called locksmith who ran from us in our previous report.
Johnson says somebody needs to be watching the locksmith industry more closely, particularly since Arizona does not require locksmiths to be licensed or regulated. 

"If I could make $300 in two minutes, I'd be doing it all day," she said.

There is a little bit of good news to report, Chase Bank initially denied Johnson's dispute on her debit card, but it reopened the case at 3 on Your Side's request. The bank decided to adjust her account to where she was only charged $55, returning all those extra fees to Johnson. 

To find legitimate locksmiths who abide by code of ethics, go to www.FindALocksmith.com.

Copyright 2015 3TV (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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