Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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Cracking down on unlicensed locksmiths

OAKLAND, CA (KGO) -- A bill awaiting the Governor's signature would crack down on unlicensed locksmiths gouging vulnerable residents locked out of their home or cars. Supporters of the measure credit a 7 On Your Side investigation with inspiring the bill.

Most of us would feel threatened if our house or car keys got into the wrong hands. That's what happens every time someone hires an unlicensed locksmith.

Christopher Chew knows how vulnerable you can become when you get locked out of your house.

The Emeryville man claims 24 Hour Locksmith told him the bill would be no more than $200. the final bill was $613.

The locksmith demanded immediate payment in cash and drove him to an ATM to withdraw it.

"It was a very implied threat. He said I know exactly where you live. My bosses are going to get their money some way or another. We obviously have access to your place," said Chew.

We attempted to reach 24 hour locksmith for comment, but their phone is disconnected.

This summer, the state legislature passed AB 2592 by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma with the support of the California Locksmith Association.

"The consumer in the new law will have the ability for restitution upon prosecution. They can actually get their money back from the individual that did the wrong against them," said John Brueggeman, President of the California Locksmith Association.

The bill increases the fine for unlicensed locksmith activity tenfold to $10,000.

"This is a public safety issue, it is also a huge underground economy issue and it's also helping the legitimate small businesses," said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D) San Francisco.

7 On Your Side researchers last year found only two percent of the 2,300 locksmiths listed in www.yellowpages.com had legitimate licenses.

Our investigation also found that at least 75 percent of those locksmiths don't have permits to collect taxes. Those uncollected taxes are believed to be costing the state untold millions every year.

But Ma says this is primarily a safety issue.

"Nobody knows who these people are and what they're doing with copies of your keys to your home and car. I believe if the governor signs a bill, people will feel more secure about calling a locksmith," said Ma.

Co-owner Randall Reed from Reed Brothers Security is so frustrated by unlicensed activity, he conducted his own sting. Reed lured a suspected unlicensed locksmith to his shop, and held him until police arrived.

Oakland Police cited him for unlicensed business activity and driving with a suspended license.

"The cops, they cuffed him, put him back of the car. They verified he didn't have a license," said Reed.

Most locksmiths agree the key is enforcement.

"Some of the people like the DA who would say they can't spend the money on it. Now if they raise the fine to $10,000 per event, maybe they'll be able to go after them," said Steve Hess from All City Locksmith.

Hess is cautious with his support of the bill. Others are more enthusiastic.

"KGO7 has been at the forefront in the state of California of bringing this to the attention of the consuming public," said Brueggeman.

"I just thank KGO for bringing this to our attention. I think this is a very important consumer safety issue," said Ma.

We'll stay on top of this and let you know what the Governor does.