New bill cracks down illegal locksmiths

December 31, 2007 7:49:49 PM PST
A 7 On Your Side investigation is resulting in legislative action. A new bill is being introduced to crack down on unlicensed and unethical locksmiths.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma says she authored the bill in response to a series of stories exposing a widespread locksmith scam operating in the Bay Area.

It is possible to get caught in this scam, even if you are too smart and savvy to be caught in other rip-offs. If you've ever been locked out of your car, you have been vulnerable.

Rose Golobic of San Bruno got ripped off for $1,500 dollars after being locked out of her house.

"I think he took advantage of an old lady, whether he meant it or not I don't know. But he sure took advantage of me $1500 dollars," said Golobic.

Lori Pinnavaia of Santa Clara County was ripped off for $3,300 dollars and she was desperate to get all her locks changed.

"We really acted in a way we wouldn't have acted had we not been under duress like that," said Pinnavaia.

Janet Chung of San Francisco was taken by an unlicensed locksmith a year ago for thousands of dollars, also after being burglarized.

"I still remember the day. I still remember everything happening, yeah," said Janet Chung.

She was charged $5,000 dollars for what legitimate locksmiths say should have cost no more than $150.

"It's very easy for locksmiths like these guys to take advantage of people. It's very easy for them and there's not much repercussion that they're facing," said Chung.

The penalty is just $1,000 dollars for operating without a license. Assemblywoman Fiona Ma has introduced a bill changing that to $10,000 dollars, plus additional fines of $2,500 dollars for not displaying their locksmith license number in all yellow page and other ads longer than one line.

"I thank you for exposing this issue. Obviously it's a concern for safety. The fact that there are people changing your lock and having a copy of your key, able to come in at another time is obviously a concern," said Assemblyman Fiona Ma (D) San Francisco.

John Brueggeman is president of the California Locksmiths Association.

"This will give the teeth for not only the local district attorney or city attorneys to prosecute unlicensed activity, but also allow the consumer to seek restitution," said Brueggerman.

He says licensed locksmiths go through a criminal background check. Unlicensed locksmiths don't.

"Please understand an unethical or phony locksmith not going through these checks. You as a consumer without checking their licensing are basically giving them the keys to your business, the keys to your house, the keys to your vehicle," said Brueggeman.

The unlicensed locksmith suspected of ripping off Golobic, Pinnavaia and Chung is suspected of doing it again.

Moshe Mizrachi is the same locksmith caught on video by 7 On Your Side hidden cameras back in February.

He served less than six months in the San Mateo county jail after agreeing to a plea bargain following his arrest by San Bruno police for unlicensed locksmith activity.

Now San Carlos police says he's suspected of violating his parole.

They also say they have evidence connecting him to unlicensed locksmith activity in both San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

It's hoped assemblywoman's Ma's bill will cut down on that type of activity.

"You know, its just going to require enforcement, and that's what we're going to do is put pressure to make sure this law is enforced once its passed," said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma.

To date, Mizrachi has not been charged in any other jurisdiction outside of San Mateo County, although San Francisco says its investigation in the case is ongoing.

Mizrachi is currently being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement awaiting a deportation hearing. If you have had any contact with Mizrachi since June, San Carlos Police urge you to contact your local authorities.

Click here to license search for a locksmith company.
Click here to file a complaint on any illegal activity.


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