CHICAGO (WLS) --There is an elaborate online trick, a new scheme in which the person who shows up at your door is not who you thought you hired. Instead they are unlicensed locksmiths who can gain access to your home and pocketbook at a vulnerable moment.
"My wife and I were like, who was in our house?" said Ernie Mitropolous of Roselle, Ill. "You almost feel like you were robbed, you were violated in a weird way. You feel like wow, someone was in our house that wasn't legit."
Mitropolous thought he hired a company he knows, Action Lock & Key also located in Roselle, to fix his locks.
Knowles: "You went to Google and clicked on a link that looked like Action Lock & Key but wasn't?"
The website he clicked on and number he called didn't belong to the real Action Lock & Key. Instead, a man named Brandon Ball showed up.
"He put this whole device in," Mitropolous said.
The invoice Ball left said Lock Services, Inc., with no address or state license number, which is illegal according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations. There is no licensed company with that name.
Mitropolous said Ball quoted his job at $50 and then charged him $150. When Mitropolous called Action Lock & Key to complain, he found out that the real company had never been at his home.
"You are entrusting one of us to come into your place of business or your home with everything you own," said Andy Maglio, owner Action Lock and Key.
That is why locksmiths are heavily regulated.
"We are all federally fingerprinted, state finger printed. The state requires us to have our name, our license number on everything," Maglio said.
The I-Team wanted to find out more about what happened so we called the number that Brandon Ball left for the Mitropolis family. He sent one of his associates.
Knowles: "Can you show us your locksmith license?"
Locksmith: Yeah, it's in the office, call to the company.
Knowles: What company are you anyway?
Locksmith: 24/7 Locksmith.
Knowles: You are not Action?
Knowles: Customers say they were looking for Action Lock and got you instead.
Locksmith: I don't know.
Knowles: They say the website diverted them.
An investigation found this new company name, 24/7, isn't licensed either. 24/7 Locksmith often pops up when searching the internet for established locksmith services. In a text, Ball told the I-Team he no longer works for the company because he "found out that the way some companies operated were violating the Locksmith Act, so I got away from there." He also said, "I have nothing to do with these allegations."
Mike Bronzell, locksmith and former chairman at the Associated Locksmiths of America Taskforce, said he has seen this before.
"They impersonate other locksmiths, put their phone numbers on another locksmith's Google listing," Bronzell said. "I've met with the FBI and discussed this with them but nothing has been happening. "
But Google told the I-Team it's trying to help. Their West Coast pilot program requires proof that a locksmith company is legit before allowing advertisements.
Google told the I-team: "...we're testing out a new advanced verification process for locksmith ... businesses. We're monitoring results and believe this process will help limit spam while highlighting more quality businesses."
For now, consumers should make sure locksmiths have a license number on ads and websites and then verify that number with the IDFPR's website.
"We have the keys and tools to go into everything. You are trusting us with everything," Maglio said.
When hiring a locksmith experts say you should:
- Map the address that's listed on the website to make sure that a brick-and-mortar store exists.
- When the locksmith arrives, ask for their PERC (Permanent Employee Registration Card) card. They must have it at all times.
- Check that their bill has the name of the company you called, their address and license number on it.
You also should not sign an estimate or a bill before the work is done.
To look up an Illinois locksmith company's license or a locksmith's PERC card (Permanent Employee Registration Card), go to https://ilesonline.idfpr.illinois.gov/DPR/Lookup/LicenseLookup.aspx and choose "Home and Services Providers".
To file a complaint about an Illinois locksmith, go to http://www.idfpr.com/Admin/Complaints.asp
Click here to read an overview of the Illinois Locksmith Act
Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation's statement:
Consumers should be aware that, under Illinois law, an individual purporting to be a locksmith or performing services on behalf of a locksmith agency is required to furnish documentation, including: an invoice with name, address and license number of the locksmith agency, as well as the name and license number of the locksmith who is performing the service. If a consumer suspects a locksmith of illicit activity, they should contact local law enforcement and file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). IDFPR investigates all complaints of illegal or unprofessional conduct involving its regulated professions. Should an investigation yield instances of clear non-compliance with Illinois statute and rules, official action will be taken.