WRAL Investigates

Shady locksmiths continue to prey on area residents

Posted July 8, 2009

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— Federal investigators have joined the pursuit of a locksmith operation that uses deceptive practices to take advantage of people locked out of their homes and vehicles.

WRAL News exposed the operation three months ago in a hidden-camera investigation, prompting a flood of complaints to the state Attorney General's Office. Attorney General Roy Cooper then filed suit against three companies that each operate under numerous names in an effort to shut down the operation and win some money back for consumers.

WRAL Investigates Feds investigating locksmith operation

Cooper said Wednesday that federal authorities have recently become involved because some shady locksmith operations cover several states and because of questions about the immigration status of some contractors.

Despite all of the attention, the operation continues to prey on area residents.

Tanner Triplett, 19, of Holly Springs, said he became a victim when he locked his keys in his car.

When he called his mother, Gena Triplett, for help, she searched Google.com for local locksmiths and passed several names and phone numbers to him.

"I called the cheapest one, one that said $29," Tanner Triplett said.

It was SOS Locksmith, the same company profiled in the April 23 WRAL News investigation. Hidden cameras showed the company promising to get a Cary woman back in her house for a $35 fee, but after the two-man crew drilled out both of her front door locks, they tried to charge her more than $400 for the service.

After Tanner Triplett called the company, a man in an unmarked Dodge Charger showed up and opened the locked car door within minutes. The man handed Triplett a hand-written receipt reading "26 Hours Locksmith" and charging him $137 instead of the promised $29 fee.

"I was surprised, but I felt like I had to do it," Triplett said.

"This was a total rip-off. A total scam, fraud, whatever you want to call it," Gena Triplett said. "It's a life lesson."

Cooper said stopping predatory locksmiths isn't easy because they hide in various shell companies and use bogus addresses.

In the Tripletts' case, SOS Locksmith provided an address on Pinewood Drive in Apex as its office address. The address is actually a private residence.

"We're going to keep pursuing these companies, take them to court, and run them out of North Carolina," Cooper said. "We want consumers to let us know if they've been ripped off."

He urged consumers who call locksmiths for help to make sure the person who shows up displays a North Carolina locksmith license and that the company has a verifiable business address. Most legitimate locksmiths also use marked vehicles and wear uniforms.

26 Comments

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  • FromClayton Jul 9, 2009

    cartman. i love it!

  • stupiditydeservesnosympathy Jul 9, 2009

    The smart thing to do is keep a house key hidden on your property and extra car keys in the house. I have locked myself out before and never have had to call a locksmith. Being prepared for situations like this is key to avoiding paying these scammers

  • Armando de Cabana Boy Jul 9, 2009

    Cartman: That's hilarious!

  • FromClayton Jul 9, 2009

    so it seems like you could just pay them the price they quoted you. it's not like they can take you to court for being shadey. I would absoutly refuse to pay it. Bargin people, bargin. The world is a yardsale if you know how to bargin correctly.

  • kbo80 Jul 9, 2009

    Why can't the police pretend they need them and have the handcuffs ready when they get there? This does not seem like it would be that difficult for them to be caught. WOW!

  • WXYZ Jul 9, 2009

    I've been in Raleigh 29 years and both I and my mother made the mistake of calling a locksmith for help. Even the oldest Locksmith companies in Raleigh, can not resist the temptation to price gouge and engage in other forms of trickery. Don't expect them to act grateful for your business--they think you have no other choices. The best thing to do is try to deal with it yourself or get a friend to help. Call a locksmith company only as a last resort. The only way to hold them to their word is to record the phone call. Otherwise, demand a full, written and signed document, which specifies exactly what they will to and what they will charge--expect them to bait and switch and leave out necessary items, until after you have signed the agreement--and them price gouge you on the "extras". Most of the local home supply and hardware stores will rekey or common key all locks that you buy from them, so try to go that route first.

  • jobchick2004 Jul 9, 2009

    Milkman,
    What does Obama have to do with this?

  • jobchick2004 Jul 9, 2009

    People need to get in Triple A-then you won't have to call a locksmith.

  • PeterG Jul 9, 2009

    Sounds like a job for Dateline.

  • Timbo Jul 9, 2009

    "AAA...if they could tell you who they use for getting you into your car?"

    East Coast Towing. The guy has a slim jim looking tool and a wedge. Takes him 15 seconds.

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