13 Undercover investigation reveals some locksmiths over-charging customers for basic service

Many of us have locked our keys in our cars. But dialing a locksmith you don't know could mean paying a lot more than you thought
February 13, 2014 1:44:52 PM PST
We've all done it, locked our keys in our car. A 13 Undercover hidden-camera investigation found that mistake can be very costly. Dialing a locksmith you don't know could mean you pay a lot more than you'd expect to get back on the road.

It's a horrible feeling. You lock your car doors and realize you've left the keys inside. Most of us will look up a locksmith on our smartphone and call the one with the cheapest advertised price. But as we found out, that price can skyrocket when the technician actually arrives.

"It is relatively simple if you have the right tools and the right knowledge, and you can usually get into it in 30 seconds or less," said Tony Graham with Pop-A-Lock.

Pop-A-Lock has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and is used by AAA.

They showed up when Pedro Marzuca locked his keys in the trunk of his BMW.

"You lock your keys in your car, you got somewhere to go, you've got places to be," Marzuca said.

"The average price for your common majority of cars is about $50," Graham said.

But when we went undercover using hidden cameras with five local locksmiths, we found most charged a lot more.

Our undercover producer locked the keys in a rental car, and called local locksmith companies.

"So $19 to come out? Do you have an estimate of much is this going to be? Starting price you said $25?" the KTRK producer says to a locksmith on the phone.

But when the locksmith shows up, the price jumps.

"With the service call, it's $127," he told our producer.

"$127? Are you kidding? Why?" our producer asked.

"To open this kind of car is not easy," the locksmith said.

He eventually offers to drop his price to $110, while admitting no one gets the low advertised price.

"So the company you work for, do they make you charge a certain price or how does that work?" we asked the locksmith.

"They tell me to charge $127 or $137, depends. Sometimes a car takes me 15 minutes to open," the locksmith said.

Next, we confronted the locksmith about the cost.

"When we called in we we're told $25 and up. But you told her that in most cases it's always $127, $137. That's not truthful advertising," we told the locksmith.

"You're right. That's what they tell me," he said.

The Houston Better Business Bureau says too often consumers are pressured into paying outrageous prices because the companies will only give a low starting price.

"Basically, that's kind of giving them an out. People just hear the $35, they may not hear the 'and up.' They think that's the lowest price and their situation is very simple and it should be that price," said Leah Napoliello with the BBB.

Another trick of the trade -- remember when the locksmith said our vehicle was hard to open? That's not true, according to the guys at Pop-A-Lock. They told us these standard tools of the trade will work on almost any car.

"It depends on what kind of car it is," the locksmith told us.

"It doesn't depend on what kind of car it is. This is a normal car that anyone can open the way you opened it. Locksmiths use that tool on cars all the time. We've done our research, we know that those aren't special tools. They're standard," we said.

"Yes, you're right," he replied.

The next three locksmiths we called also charged us more than the $50 or so we were quoted over the phone.

"Service fee charge, the taxes and everything, it will be $140," another locksmith told us.

"How much?" we asked.

"$140," he repeated.

When we confronted them, some clearly were not wanting to be on camera when asked about their prices.

"I see camera in front of my face and I really don't like it," one locksmith said.

"Why are you charging so much? The guy said it would be like $50, and you're telling me it's $140?" we asked him.

"Watch out man," he said.

There was, however, this one locksmith who charged us only $82, which was pretty close to what we were quoted over the phone.

"I got in pretty fast and I didn't drive too much, so I think $82 was a fair price," that locksmith said.

Finally, one locksmith wanted us to pay more than any of the others.

"Total is $180," he said.

"Almost $200 to open my car?" our producer asked.

In just a few minutes, he's got the keys out, so we jump out of our undercover truck.

"Can you tell me why you charged her almost $200 to get into her car?" we asked the locksmith.

"Because the company is asking me to charge, so we charge," he said. "Consider it a gift from my company and myself. Have a good day."

The locksmiths consistently told us they were independent contractors. But we couldn't get a straight answer on which companies they work for.

To help you from getting overcharged, we're making it easy. Below is a list of locksmiths with A+ ratings with the Houston Better Business Bureau. Store their numbers in your phone now, so you'll have it when you need it.

Better Business Bureau accredited Locksmiths with A+ ratings:

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