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Lawmakers push for tough locksmith regulations

August 10, 2011 7:27:17 PM PDT
There's a new push under way in Sacramento to crack down on unlicensed locksmiths who gouge unsuspecting customers.

A law authorized by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma raised the fine for unlicensed activity tenfold in 2008 to $10,000 and provided a means for customers to get restitution. Now, there's a new movement under way to give California greater enforcement powers.

Randy Reed looks over the pockmarks left by a locksmith in a door jamb of the Nepomuceno family, who hired a locksmith when Aris Nepomuceno's wife Marisol was locked out on a Saturday morning.

The California Locksmith Association says the basic lockout should have been easy and inexpensive.

"The fact that they used an air wedge is kind of unprofessional on a residential, because it can damage the door and the jamb," Reed said.

Reed said the bill should have run no more than $125 even for a Saturday morning, but the Nepomuceno family said they paid three times that amount.

"I think, for her, it was a little more intimidating," Aris Nepomuceno said. "The fact that there were two gentlemen here, and she probably didn't want to anger them by trying to challenge them and not to pay the price."

Reed says in an emergency, many people tend to hire a locksmith based on an internet or phone book search, but some locksmiths ABC7 found had phony addresses, making them tough to track down if consumers have a complaint.

One locksmith found on Google Maps listed an address belonging to a Japanese dollar store, and another supposedly was at a florist.

Google says it's aware this goes on, but points out the practice predates Google and encourages users to flag a listing by going to its "Report A Problem" tool on the "Place" page.

The Nepomuceno's hired a company called Picksquad using a similar internet search. ABC7 found a promotional video for the company posted on YouTube. In the video, a store front can be seen, but when we investigated the building, what we found was a residence.

A check of public records also found that Picksquad is currently unlicensed. ABC7's calls to them went unanswered.

Complaints about unlicensed and unethical locksmiths to 7 On Your Side have decreased dramatically since our first undercover sting piece in 2007. One locksmith was eventually arrested and pleaded guilty in a plea bargain.

Inspired by a series of 7 On Your Side stories, the legislature increased the fine for unlicensed locksmith activity tenfold to $10,000. Now the state is moving to take enforcement to the next step.

The state is writing new regulations that would allow enforcers to issue fines and citations without going through a district attorney.

"This makes it easier for us to bring people to account on a consistent basis and hit them where it hurts: In the pocketbook," said Mike Heimerich with the Department of Consumer Affairs.

The new regulations should be in place by the end of the year.

ABC7 brought the Nepomuceno's case to the attention of the State Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. Nepomuceno will get a full refund and the state says Picksquad is in the process of completing its license application.


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