Aug. 12 (KGO) -- State regulators announced Friday they are disturbed by a spike in the number of complaints about unlicensed locksmiths in the Bay Area. 7 On Your Side has been investigating similar complaints for nearly a month.
The state Department of Consumer Affairs issued a consumer alert today -- warning about unlicensed locksmiths accused of shoddy work and price gouging. We've heard from several consumers with just those types of complaints.
Karen Cunningham: "I thought you know, this is a scam, this is a rip-off, this is wrong. Plain wrong."
Karen Cunningham of Brisbane is talking about what happened when she and a colleague called All Around Locksmith for help after they got trapped inside her office.
She says two men showed up and drilled the lock open within 15 minutes.
"They handed me a bill for $641," she says. "We were both so stunned. We were just looking at these people thinking, `I smell a rat, I smell a big, big, fat rat!"
That's what Linda Foreman of Pacifica thought too, when she too called All Around Locksmith for help with a broken deadbolt on her horse trailer.
Linda Foreman: "The lock couldn't be picked, that took them 5 minutes. They said they were going to have to drill it."
Linda says less than a minute after the drilling started, the lock popped, the door opened and she got the bill.
Linda Foreman: "They came back out and told me the bill was $95 for the call and $260 for the drilling, so the total was $355."
She argued and managed to get the price down to $260.
While there's no law preventing locksmiths from charging whatever they want, there is a law requiring them to be licensed.
Charlene Zettel, California Department of Consumer Affairs: "They need to submit their fingerprints and have a criminal background check before they are allowed to be a licensed locksmith."
All Around Locksmith faxed us a license for a company called "(A) 24 Hour Locksmith," saying "All Around" is one of its fictitious business names.
But the state says there must be a license for each individual name.
Al Anolik rented office space to men who claimed to be locksmiths. A few weeks later, Al says he noticed the locksmiths' door was ajar, and opened phone bills were scattered on the floor of the empty office.
Al Anolik: "I'm concerned for the people in the building because if they know how to pick locks, I don't want them picking locks from the other tenants."
He called his security manager, William Low, who copied phone numbers off the open bills and he decided to set up an experiment.
He had a friend call the locksmiths to her home.
William Low: "I see individuals removing the lock saying they were measuring the locks. I asked them for license, they say pay us $150 before we do anything, pay us money to assemble the locks back."
While he called police, William says the two workers took off, dropping a book of receipts from dozens of other jobs.
Al has security camera tape of his locksmith tenants. William identified one of the men on the tape as one of the men he confronted previously.
William Low: "That's him, right there. No doubt in my mind, it's him."
We showed the video to Karen, who identified both men on the security cam as the same two who worked on her lock.
7 On Your Side also called one of the numbers off the phone bills, and again, the same two men showed up, bearing the same business card for "All Around Locksmith."
They refused to give us their license number, and when the police were mentioned, they took off, leaving their unmarked van behind.
State regulators say Bay Area consumers need to be extra careful when hiring a locksmith.
Charlene Zettel, California Department of Consumer Affairs: "The most important thing for consumers to do is to make sure that the locksmith that they hire is licensed."
Get that license number and verify it before having any work done, and consider reporting any suspicious activity.
Al Anolik: "Like the Supreme Court says, you know pornography when you see it. You know a scam when you see it!"
"All Around Locksmith" is not on the list of companies the state released Friday, and its owner promised to fix the company's licensing issues with the state.
To see the list of locksmiths the state is investigating, and for information on how to check a locksmith's license, visit:
To verify a locksmith company or locksmith employee's license, visit: