Locked Out? Look Out! - NBC Connecticut

Locked Out? Look Out!

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    If you find yourself locked out of your car or your house and need a locksmith, be careful who you call.

    You could end up with a "ghost" locksmith working for an out-of-state company. Some of them might quote you one price, but actually charge far more for service that might not be as good as you expect. And if there's a problem, you'll have a hard time tracking them down.

    NBC Connecticut called a suspected "ghost" locksmith for service after trying to visit his company, "West Hartford Locksmith" at 19 Brace Road in West Hartford.

    We arrived and found out the address was actually a town parking lot in West Hartford Center.

    The man showed up but quickly disappeared once he realized he was dealing with NBC Connecticut.

    "I don't understand why you're trying to charge me so much," reporter Debra Bogstie asked.

    "You can call the company," replied the man, who then drove off with his hatchback still raised.

    His company wasn't the only company we found listing bad addresses online.

    In Hartford, we tried to find a locksmith listed at 44 Russ St., but found out that address was an intersection.

    In East Hartford, we found a locksmith wrongly listed at a Sunoco gas station on Silver Lane.

    In Newington, we tried to find a locksmith that was listed at 335 Willard Ave., but found no building to go along with that address.

    St. Mark's Church in West Hartford learned the hard way last year when officials there searched online and called the company listed at the Brace Road parking lot.

    The company's name was similar to the name of the company the church meant to call, which is the West Hartford Lock Company.

    State records show the church actually received a bill from a Florida company, Valuable Locksmith, for nearly $3,400 for service the church complained was overpriced, not well done, and not even finished.

    West Hartford Lock Company fixed the damage.

    Locksmith Drew Jarabek, with West Hartford Lock Company, is now speaking out to warn others.

    "What he did was he took a lot of their expensive hardware off and replaced it with cheaper hardware, took a lot of the lock sets apart, didn't repair them, and left them holding the bag," said Jarabek.

    In Windsor, the Delamere Woods Retirement Home ran into a problem with a different company earlier this year.

    They also meant to call the West Hartford Lock Company to fix a resident's broken lock, a company they've worked with for 20 years. Instead, 411 gave them a different company, which we found wrongly lists its address at the Jewish Federation Building on Bloomfield Avenue in West Hartford.

    Lois Boulware, the assistant director of Delamere Woods, thought it was odd that she didn't recognize the man who showed up.

    "He seemed very nice, although he did evade my questions," said Boulware.

    The man fixed the lock, but only after claiming he was a subcontractor for their longtime locksmith, said Boulware.

    When she later called the West Hartford Lock Company to double check, she learned the man was not a subcontractor for them.

    When the bill arrived, Boulware noticed it was from USA Locksmith.com out of Hackensack, New Jersey.

    "They out and out lied to me and misrepresented who they were working for, so I said I'm not paying the invoice," said Boulware.

    "Calls come into us. We help our customers," supervisor Richard Lawson said. "We're going to take their information and send a technician."

    Lawson did not provide an explanation for the company's incorrect address.

    The state Department of Consumer Protection is investigating the locksmith industry, including the two out-of-state companies mentioned in this story.

    Commissioner William Rubenstein said companies sometimes use fake addresses to appear local, they can run up prices and often fail to register with his agency, which means they also don't go through a required criminal background check.

    "When people deal with registered locksmiths, they have some assurance that the person can be found if there's a problem and that there's not a past history of improper criminal behavior," said Rubenstein.

    To see how "ghost" locksmiths operate, we locked our car and dialed the number for that Florida company, which lists its local address in that Brace Road parking lot.

    The company refused to guarantee a final price over the phone. When asked for a ballpark price, the representative stated the job would be about $79.

    A locksmith showed up at our location, after getting lost along the way, even though we parked in the same Brace Road parking lot where the company lists its address.

    After looking quickly inside the car, the man said, "Service call: $39. Lockout service: $110. Total: $149."

    "One hundred forty nine dollars for the whole price?" Bogstie asked. "They told me on the phone it was going to be about $79 total."

    When asked, the man showed a Florida license, not one from Connecticut.

    After checking with his boss, he did offer to drop the price to $100, which was still $20 higher than the ballpark figure.

    "I'm a news reporter. We're doing a story on locksmiths," Bogstie said. "I don't understand why you're trying to charge me so much?"

    That's when the man jumped in his vehicle and drove off without closing the back of his car.

    It's no surprise to locksmith Drew Jarabek, of the West Hartford Lock Company.

    His advice is, do your homework and be smart about who you're letting into your home.

    NBC Connecticut did reach out to that Florida company for comment and has not heard back.

    The state Department of Consumer Protection recommends you find a local locksmith before you need one, get their license plate when they show up to do the work and file a complaint if you run into problems.