Raleigh, N.C. — Police on Thursday arrested two men on charges that they were performing locksmith services without a license, including one man who was the subject of a WRAL News hidden-camera investigation.
Reem Shai and a partner were caught on camera last year drilling the locks on a homeowner's front door. The men initially quoted the customer a $35 fee to get her into her house, but the price quickly ballooned to more than $400.
The investigation prompted a flood of complaints to state Attorney General Roy Cooper's office. Cooper then filed suit against three companies, which each operate under numerous names, in an effort to shut them down.
The North Carolina Locksmith Licensing Board also hired a private investigator to document cases where unlicensed locksmiths gouged customers.
During the course of the board's investigation and before officials realized who he was, Shai applied for a state locksmith license, but he failed the test.
The private investigator on Thursday tipped off Raleigh police that Shai was operating a kiosk at Triangle Town Center mall advertising his services, and officers arrested him.
Police also picked up a second man, Kfir Mazor, on Thursday morning and charged him with locksmith license violations.
One woman, who asked not to be identified, said Thursday that she paid Mazor $334 after being quoted a $29 fee. She said she became suspicious when he showed up outside her house in an unmarked car.
"He had flip-flops on and Bermuda shorts, earrings here and there. It just, to me, didn't look professional," the woman said.
Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were checking to see if Shai and Mazor are in the country legally.
Officials with the Locksmith Licensing Board say they plan to keep pursuing such cases to reduce the number of people who get scammed by phony locksmiths.
"It's a very terrible feeling, and since all this has happened, I went ahead and got a new lock," Mazor's customer said.
Consumer-protection advocates said consumers who call locksmiths for help should verify the business address of the company and ask the person who shows up to display his or her North Carolina locksmith license. Most legitimate locksmiths also use marked vehicles and wear uniforms, officials said.