TAMPA, Florida - The fallout from a 10 Connects investigation into illegal locksmiths continues as a couple of Florida legislators have re-introduced the "Florida Locksmith Services Act."
State Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, says he'll use a DVD of 10 Connects' undercover sting and the federal bust to convince his fellow lawmakers that the ancient industry desperately needs regulation.
"It was once just a mom and pop industry where you knew you could call someone up and they'd come out and do the right thing," said Crist. "That is changing. The criminal element is pioneering a strong niche in this industry."
The bill, co-sponsored in the state house by Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Holiday, failed to make it out of committee in 2008 and 2009. Crist says it is because his fellow legislators didn't see the reform as a priority.
"What happens is, the priority issues move faster," Crist said during our initial series of reports in November. "And for the last few years, this has not been taken as a serious priority issue."
The 10 Connects investigations - and subsequent interviews with former Dependable Locks technicians - revealed claims that owner David Peer helped train locksmiths on how to deceive customers and charge "as much as they could" from people in their times of need. Phone operators often quoted a low price which ballooned when technicians arrived.
Peer faces lawsuits from a handful of states and is currently in Missouri facing federal mail fraud charges relating to Dependable Locks.
Crist says a state locksmith board would protect consumers by mandating training, restricting inappropriate charges, and - perhaps most importantly - requiring background checks. Florida is one of 36 states where locksmiths are almost completely unregulated.
"What good is a new locking system," Crist asked rhetorically, "if the person who installed it is going to come back and break in later?"
"It would provide," he continued, "the security of knowing that when you call a locksmith, you're getting a professional who knows his or her craft, who practices his or her craft, who has had a background check, who is a legitimate entity coming to your door, making your key, and installing your lock. And that it's not a criminal coming under the disguise of a locksmith to take advantage of you sometime down the road when you're not looking."
The bill could also help crack down on the fake locksmith listings that saturate many local phone books. The 2010-2011 Yellowbook contains more than 100 listings with fake addresses and a 727-451-xxxx phone number.
A Yellowbook spokesperson issued the following statement:
"Like many publishers, policing each and every business listing that is placed into its books is incredibly difficult. As a result, Yellowbook has elected to publish only paid advertiser listings in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater moving forward. This new policy, which will help ensure the validity of the Locksmiths listed in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater directory, is effective immediately and will be reflected in the 2010/2011 directory."
A spokesman from SuperMedia, the company that publishes the Verizon Yellow Pages, said they have been eliminating fake locksmith addresses since October 2008.
The Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) endorse the proposed legislation, but some locksmiths are lining up against it. Tom Lynch, a member of the Society of Professional Locksmiths, says the costs associated with it would unfairly burden small shops.
However, Sen. Crist says the legislation would be the first step toward restoring the industry's reputation and protecting small locksmiths by eliminating the phony phone listings. Many of the 14 states with locksmith legislation have recently cracked down on unlicensed activity.
Sen. Crist and Rep. Anderson will try to push the bill through committee now that the 2010 Regular Session is under way.
Follow 10 Connects reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky or Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky.