WRAL Investigates

State licensing board cracks down on phony locksmiths

Posted February 15, 2010 5:48 p.m. EST
Updated February 15, 2010 7:02 p.m. EST

— The North Carolina Locksmith Licensing Board is stepping up enforcement of regulations on locksmiths, even filing fraud charges against three operators of a Raleigh firm.

Three operators of A1A Locksmiths were charged in recent days with using unlicensed people to perform locksmith services in Wake, Durham and Guilford counties, according to arrest warrants.

"We're trying to send the message that it's no longer acceptable to practice without a license in North Carolina," said Kevin Seymour, chairman of the state licensing board.

A WRAL News hidden-camera investigation last April showed how unlicensed locksmith businesses use deceptive tactics to run up the price on consumers. One woman saw a $35 fee to get into her house quickly balloon to more than $400.

The investigation prompted 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 them down.

"They are scamming the public," private investigator Lee Denney said of unlicensed locksmiths.

The state licensing board hired Denney to go undercover to document cases where unlicensed locksmiths gouged customers.

"I found this from Wilmington to Winston-Salem to Charlotte," he said.

Dan Eisner of A1A Locksmith said his company is getting a bad rap, but he offered little defense to allegations his employees were unlicensed.

"Hopefully, this will draw attention to where it needs to be drawn. Right now, the attention's on us. Hopefully, we'll clean it up," said Eisner, who surrendered to police Monday on fraud charges.

His sister, Netta Eisner, and her husband, Roi Gershon, were charged over the weekend.

Seymour said the licensing board is getting involved in the situation because of the public safety threat posed by unlicensed people gaining access to homes and vehicles.

"A person on one of these calls who is unlicensed, you don't really know who they are," he said.

Officials urged consumers who call locksmiths for help to 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.