By Mike Rush
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - It's an insiders view of an industry with a growing reputation for bad business practices. We're talking about locksmiths, and while not all are bad, a former employee says there are plenty ready to take advantage of you.
Give Chris Barnard a few minutes and chances are he can get in your car.
"I have yet to come across a car that I can't get into," said Barnard.
Barnard isn't a criminale's a locksmith. But as he tells it, in some cases, the two are hard to distinguish.
It's an industry, he says, that's littered with lies.
"He said I'm not a locksmith for a living, I'm a liar for a living," Barnard recounted a supervisor telling him.
And, as Five on Your Side found out, some are even breaking the law.
Barnard ought to know. While he's an independent locksmith now, he was once a cog in what Five on Your Side discovers appears to be a large locksmith machine.
In fact, he was one of the locksmiths we caught in our undercover investigation last year when we exposed what looked like price gouging by a company called Run Local Locksmith.
"I got into this because I wanted to be a locksmith, not because I wanted to be a con man," said Barnard.
He got out and is now sharing some industry secrets. Here's one you probably didn't know, many locksmiths who advertise online or in the phone book, he says, are connected because the larger companies like Run Local contract out the work through just a few companies.
Barnard's employer was Able Locksmith.
"Actually at the time we were working for about 15 different companies," he said.
Which he reiterates have just one agenda.
"There only primary objective is to make money," he said. "I've seen invoices where he charges as much as 85 dollars for his 5 dollar lock
After our first story aired, Five on Your Side got a tip locksmiths were breaking the law in Illinois.
While Missouri does not mandate locksmiths have licenses, the land of Lincoln does. But a source tipped Mike Rush off that unlicensed locksmiths do it anyway.
So once again we set up our undercover operation. This time in the metro east and called some locksmiths.
This guy who showed up was not licensed.
Jeanie (Woman we had call for Locksmith): So, do you have to have a license to open cars?
Locksmith: Hum, no.
Jeanie: You don't have to have a license?
After the locksmith said that, Mike Rush confronted him about what he said.
Rush: Hey, Dustin?
Rush: Mike Rush with Channel 5.
Rush: We're doing a story on locksmiths and I heard you tell her that you're not required to have a license?
Dustin: Uh, not for unlocking vehicles, no.
Rush: Do you know that that's not true?
Dustin: From everything I've been told unlocking vehicles in Illinois you are required to be licensed, but that's only for getting into houses and doing other things such as that.
Dustin says his employer told him he didn't need a license. We called other locksmiths over a two day period, but no one else showed up. Remember, Barnard says many use the same circle of people.
Jim Koehl is with the Illinois Division of Professional Regulation, the agency that issues licenses and enforces the law.
He says licensing is important because it requires proof of training and insurance and a criminal background check.
Rush: So if somebody is going around that state law, then they're not being fingerprinted, you don't know who they are?
Koehl: That's correct.
Barnard says while he wasn't forced to bend or break the rules, he was strongly encouraged to do whatever it took to make more money, like drilling a lock that could be picked.
"It was always you need to charge more, you need to charge more, you need to charge more," he recalled.
Come to find out, the owner of Able Locksmith, based outside of Kansas City, says Dustin works for him. The owner says he mistakenly thought it was okay to send his unlicensed workers to Illinois, but because of our investigation, he's put an end to it.
The owner also says he does not condone shady business practices and has fired the supervisor Barnard talked about.
To protect yourself, Barnard and others recommend you find a locksmith you trust now, and keep that number handy in case you need it.
The International Association of Locksmiths, the Associated Locksmiths of America, is a good resource to find a reputable locksmith. They can be reached online at Associated Locksmiths of America or by calling 1-800-532-2562.