VIRGINIA BEACH -- James Donaldson locked himself out of his home in Virginia Beach and did what many people would do, called a locksmith. He picked Available Locksmith because of its Princess Anne Road address is near his home.
When the locksmith showed up, Donaldson suspected the worker was out to take advantage of him.
"He gives me a clipboard and says ‘you need to sign this’ and when I looked at it, the prices were considerably higher than what I was quoted on the phone. I said ‘no, I'm not going to sign this,’" said Donaldson, who eventually told the locksmith to leave his property.
Donaldson's case is an exact example of what the Commonwealth's Attorney Consumer Affairs division has been warning residents about. Investigators say there's been an increase in unscrupulous practices by locksmiths, many of which are not local companies.
"People find a locksmith that sounds very trustworthy and they call that company and what they don't know is a lot of times their calls are slammed to a call center in another state. They're talking to these individuals thinking it's a local locksmith," says Consumer Affairs investigator Julie Pickell.
She adds, in some cases, the locksmiths are not licensed with the Department of Criminal Justice Services, the Virginia agency that regulates the industry.
"Worst case scenario is, people are quoted a small fee and then when the locksmith arrives, they sometimes double it or quadruple it. They charge for services that they don't need to perform," Pickell explains.
According to a Department of Criminal Justice Services investigator, Available Locksmith is not licensed.
The dispatcher who answers Available's number now identifies the company as USA Locksmith. Pickell says that brings up another problem. So many of the companies have several different names, making them hard to track. USA Locksmith is licensed with DCJS.
When Sara Saunders called Virginia Beach Locksmith, Ivan Bratanov, who says he’s a USA Locksmith employee, showed up and re-keyed three of her locks. She claims Bratanov returned in the middle of the night, while she was sleeping, and burglarized her home. Police say Bratanov opened the latch to a downstairs window while he was at the home, creating a perfect entry point for his crime.
"Somebody you pay to come in into your house to do work and trust that they are going to do a good job and it's very violating," says Saunders.
Bratanov is charged with three felonies related to the burglary of Saunders' home. Police say he stole a 60 inch TV and they found it mounted in his home.
An office manager with USA Locksmith claims he has no idea who Bratanov is.
Pickell has a warning for anyone looking for a locksmith. First, check to see if the locksmith is licensed with DCJS. Second, do some homework to find the right locksmith before you need one.
"Ideally, you don't want yourself or your children to be in a situation where you're kind of at the mercy of like throwing darts at a board, who am I going to get. It just takes a few minutes to go through and find a locksmith, check with the Better Business Bureau," she recommends.