LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Locking your keys in your car is a helpless feeling. You're on the side of the road and can't go anywhere, until a locksmith comes to rescue you.
Now a hidden camera investigation takes an eye opening look into just how much some of those locksmiths are charging stranded drivers. Are they jacking up the price once they're on the job?
Charlie Seller, owner of Highland Lock and Key, says Louisville is filled with locksmiths who advertises one low price then charge a whole lot more even for the easiest of car locks.
"It's taking advantage of a customer who's in trouble," Seller said. "The majority of the lock out customers are in trouble. They're locked out of their vehicle they're locked out of their house. And they will pay almost any amount to get back in. And that's how these guys are preying on customers."
A website called 24-7 Locksmith Services advertises a $19 service call and car lockouts that "start at $25," But the locksmith that responded after a call to that 1-800 number told a hidden camera the stranded driver would have to pay a lot more.
"It's going be $129 plus the service," a locksmith who identified himself as Ben said.
Add in the service call, and the total price was $148.
As for the price on the website, Ben said that is just "a starting price."
"It depends on the car," Ben said. "Because it's new. And you can't basically do like a slim jim. And it's more expensive."
But AAA used a slim jim to open the same door- in less than 10 seconds.
Spokesman Roger Boyd said it's hard to know if your car is that easy to open, when you're out there stranded.
"It can look or appear to be as complicated as they want or as simple as they want," Boyd said.
Ben said the lockout price went up because he considered the 2011 Ford Escape, valued at around $13,000, an expensive vehicle. And he had to insure it in case he damaged it.
He later told us, he doesn't actually have insurance. And he only meant he would pay for the damages if there were any.
Ben told the undercover producer working on the story to call another locksmith. So she called three other websites, including two with the same look as the first but different phone numbers. All of a sudden, no one wanted the job.
Days later a different undercover producer in a new location locked her keys in the undercover unit again, and this time called Five Star Louisville Locksmiths which also promised "low $19 service." But some things don't change including the locksmith who responded to our call.
This time, Ben tried to charge total of $108. Once again citing the insurance he didn't really have, and the price of the car.
Ben said the 24/7 website he works with has a disclaimer that "price quotes are a minimum." We didn't see a similar warning on the Five Star Louisville website. Once again our undercover producer passed on Ben's services but agreed to pay for the two service calls.
The keys were still locked in the car so the undercover producer tried once more.
The locksmith who responded turned out to be Seller, the locksmith who complained about the price gouging in the first place.
Seller charged us a flat rate of $67 to open the door, less than half of what ben wanted us to pay the first time around.
Seller said despite hoping someone would investigate the issue, he had no idea, nor did the undercover producer, that he would be the final one to respond to the call.
"I charged her what the job was worth without taking advantage," Seller said. "And it is a buyer beware situation."
A woman who identified herself as a manager of Five Star Louisville Locksmith, which shares a call center with 24-7 Locksmith Services, said there was nothing deceptive about the webiste pricing.
"Maybe some customers would misunderstand this, but I wouldn't," referring to the service call fees and starting price designation. "We provide the best services in town."
So what can you do to keep from paying too much? Call around and get quotes before the locksmith shows up at your car. Based on the make and model they should be able to tell you how hard the lock is to open and how much they want to charge you.
A lot of the phone numbers on those websites connect to call centers who dispatch locksmiths so you want to wait until you hear back from the locksmith that's coming out, to pin them down a price.