The most trusted and popular consumer complaints website
Explore your opportunities! Create an account or Sign In

Dependable Locks INC / Locks & Locksmith 4227 Balboa, SD - CA / Rude behavior from supervisor & threats

1 United States Review updated:

The supervisor threatened to cancel the locksmith coming to my home after I mentioned calling the BBB.

Sort by: UpDate | Rating

Comments

Le
  9th of Jul, 2007
0 Votes

Jun 21, 2007 1:39 PM

Investigators: Door Jam
Posted By: Timothy Donley

Most people don't have a locksmith on speed dial, but when you're locked out, you need help fast. Help from someone you can trust. But NBC Action News Investigator Nichole Teich is hot on the trail of one company that's hurting some customers instead of helping.

When you've locked yourself out and need to get in immediately, you're desperate. So you open the phonebook and call a locksmith. That's what Cynthia Day did after losing the keys to her car.

"[I] opened the Yellow Pages and the first big ad I seen, I called them," she said. The ad filled the entire page and listed six local phone numbers and a local address. "I wanted them to unlock my door and make me a key," Day said.

But after six hours, all she saw were wires hanging from her dash and her car's ignition switch in the passenger seat. "He told me he was going to fix it, but then it was going to be a $300 bill."

What Day did not know is that the company has a long list of complaints from customers who say they were pressured into paying high prices. So the NBC Action News Investigators decided to put them to the test.

With the help of a metro homeowner, we locked ourselves out. We also called Always Available Locksmith for help. They told us $39 for the service call, $15 to open the door.

And 30 minutes later, a locksmith arrives. He starts using tools to pick the lock and our hidden cameras are watching his every move. But what he doesn't know is that we picked the lock the day before.

President of the Missouri/Kansas Locksmith Association Jack Iturralde is helping us because he says other local locksmiths are often left to clean up the mess after Always Available Locksmith makes a house call.

"If someone comes out and pretends to be a locksmith and treats them like this, that makes the entire craft look badly," Iturralde said. Using ordinary lock picking tools, it takes Iturralde less than one minute to get into our test home. And he left the lock still intact.

"This is definitely a pickable lock," he said. "I would see no reason why any locksmith with reasonable training would have to drill this lock whatsoever."
At the test house, the locksmith from Always Available – using the same tools – tried to pick the lock. One minute passes, but the locksmith is having no luck. Five minutes later, 10 minutes later, the locksmith says he can't open the door. That is when he brings up an alternative.

"I might have to drill it," he said. Drilling a hold through the lock is something Iturralde says a skilled locksmith would rarely do, because then the homeowner is left with no way to protect their property.

But the locksmith from Always Available has a solution for that, as well. "That's $89 without tax." He just happens to have a replacement lock in his van and the price goes up $35. The Always Available locksmith takes out a drill and starts destroying the lock. So we stopped watching and started asking tough questions.


NICHOLE TEICH: I'm Nichole Teich with NBC Action News. Is that how you make extra money, by drilling into these locks?
LOCKSMITH: No.

NICHOLE TEICH: And then selling them a lock?

LOCKSMITH: No.

Then he stopped talking.

"Get this camera out of my face," he said, then walked away.

But we already knew the answers. We decided to pay a visit to the company. The ad in the phone book says all calls are answered at 295 W. 231 St. in Tonganoxie, Kan. But there's no locksmith there, only a huge cornfield. But we tracked the company thousands of miles from home, to New York City.

The company's real name is Dependable Locksmith, and when you call one of the six local phone numbers, your call is forwarded to an answering service out of New York.

Makesha Brown, a former employee, told sister station TMJ4 that she was trained to elude customers' questions.

"Some would be crying, some would be really angry, agitated," she said, adding supervisors often made fun of the callers who were angry about the way they do business. And if she was ever in trouble, "I would think twice. I would make sure to find out where the locksmith was because I never hope to deal with that company myself."

The real problem is that even though cosmetologists, podiatrists and even perfumists are all required to have licenses, locksmiths are not.

Dependable Locksmith is doing business in several states and is under currently investigation. Both the attorneys general in Illinois and Ohio are suing the company for deceptive practices. There is nothing pending in Missouri or Kansas.

Le
  9th of Jul, 2007
0 Votes

Consumers Can File a Complaint Against Phony Locksmiths from the ALOA Website
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The Associated Locksmiths of America, Inc. (ALOA), an international association of locksmith and physical security professionals expanded its website (www.aloa.org) so consumers can file a complaint against phony locksmiths directly to their state'ss Attorney General Consumer Protection Division. For those consumers who used the Internet to find a phony locksmith, they will be taken directly to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.

This is a great tool for consumers to fight back against these scam artists, says ALOA'ss Executive Director, Charles W. Gibson, Jr., CAE, We were asked by the state Attorneys General to help them identify consumers who have been defrauded. Being linked directly to their complaint procedure will ensure a quick response from the state'ss top law enforcement agency, and faster convictions for these unscrupulous companies.

These phony locksmith companies purposely manipulate phone book and internet listings with multiple false addresses and phone numbers to make their companies seem like neighborhood businesses. In actuality, consumers are frequently calling out-of-state operations that are not locksmith companies. The consumer is quoted a reasonable price over the phone, but when a person posing as a locksmith finishes the job, the consumer is charged a considerable amount more for unnecessary and/or sub-standard work.

The complaint heard most often by consumers is for car openings. The price quoted over the phone to stranded motorist is around $45. When the individual arrives and unlocks the car, he hands the motorist a bill for $135 - $150. This unscrupulous individual tells the frustrated consumer that the $45 was just the service call and that it was another $90 - $100 for servicing the lock. ALOA has record of a number of incidents of elderly consumers locked out of their homes and being charged $900 to $1700 to replace a $12 lock. These out-of-state operations are set up solely to make money by purposely defrauding the public.

ALOA has also created a 10-point checklist for detecting a locksmith company that may be engaging in this scheme. Many of the items in this checklist are legal by themselves, adds Gibson. However, if several are used together, you may be dealing with a con-artist.

1. Not Familiar with Your Area. To ensure that the company is local, make sure that they are familiar with your area of town.
2. Locksmith Service. Unscrupulous individuals often operate under many business names/aliases. Thus, they must answer the phone with a generic phrase like, locksmith service. If the call is answered this way, ask, What is the legal name of your business.
3. ALOA Logo. Does the Yellow Pages ad contain a logo that makes them appear to belong to ALOA While many locksmiths do belong to the Association, some unscrupulous individuals trick the consumer by falsely using the ALOA logo. You can always check to see if in fact these businesses are members by calling ALOA, (800) 532-2562 or www.findalocksmith.com.
4. Unclear Business Name. Look closely at the ad(s). Is the specific name of the business clearly identified Does it appear that the dealer actually operates under several names If a Web address is listed, does the name on the Web site match the name on the ad
5. Under Same Ownership. This confusing statement, often found in small print at the bottom of a full-page ad in the Yellow Pages, is often legally required to prevent a business from deceiving the public. The statement itself may be a warning sign that the company operates under several aliases.
6. Service Vehicle. Some legitimate locksmiths will work out of a car or unmarked van for quick jobs, but most will arrive in a service vehicle - a van or truck that is clearly marked.
7. Identity. A legitimate locksmith should ask for identity and some form of proof that you have the authority to allow the unlocking to be done. You have the right to ask for the locksmith'ss identification as well. Does he have a business card Does he have an invoice or bill with the company name printed on it Does it match the name on the service vehicle
8. Estimate. Find out what the work will cost before you authorize it. Never sign a blank form authorizing work.
9. Invoice. Insist on an itemized invoice. You can'st dispute a charge without proof of how much you paid and what the payment was for.
10. Refuse. If you are not comfortable with the service provider, you can, and should, refuse to work with the locksmith.

Check for a valid state license number. The states that have licensing for locksmith services (AL,CA, IL, LA, NJ, NC, OK, TN and TX) may require the licensed locksmith company to include a state license number on their vehicles, advertising, and all paperwork. If your state requires licensing, then the technician must show you his/her identity card, which is a good indicator of legitimacy. These licensed locksmiths and their companies have been investigated by the state and found free of criminal activity in their past, and are required to have current valid liability insurance policies in force. States with a licensing law typically have a consumer protection hotline number to call and a mailing address for complaints to be sent to. Do not pay anyone that will not provide you with this information. If your state does not have a licensing law to protect you, ask your legislator for that protection. The Associated Locksmiths Of America (ALOA) supports state licensing for the purpose of protecting the consumer and can assist your legislator in drafting laws to protect consumers from phony locksmith scams.

The Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) is the world's largest organization for locksmiths and other physical security professionals. ALOA is dedicated to being the consumer's first line of defense in physical security by increasing the effectiveness and productivity of locksmiths through educational programs and materials that address broad security interests. ALOA'ss activities include the ALOA Continuing Education (ACE) program, the ALOA Annual Convention & Security Expo and the ALOA Training Center, which is based in Dallas, Texas. ALOA leads the way for advanced and improved security performance by providing members and the security community with access to a full range of educational programs and services.

Contact:
Tim McMullen, JD, CAE, Legislative Manager
214-819-9733 x300
tim(at)aloa.org

Le
  10th of Jul, 2007
0 Votes

Home | Check Out an Organization | File a Complaint | Go to Local BBBs | Get Tips

News & Articles
- Search Articles
- Consumer/Business Tips
- Press Releases
- Media-Friendly Experts
- BBB Video Series


BBB Warns Consumers of Nationwide Locksmith Swindle. You may have been a victim and not even know it. For Immediate Release.

Arlington, VA – July 10, 2007 – The Better Business Bureau (BBB) today is warning consumers to beware of untrustworthy locksmith companies that are ripping off consumers across the country.

Victim complaints to the BBB reveal that several locksmith companies, all using similar methods, are significantly overcharging consumers, charging consumers for unnecessary services, using intimidation tactics, and failing to give refunds or respond to consumer complaints.

“Ironically, these companies operate under names like ‘Dependable Locksmith’ but in reality they exploit the vulnerable situation of consumers who are locked out of their house or car,” said Steve Cox spokesperson for the BBB System. “We’ve found that some locksmiths have made taking advantage of consumers’ misfortune part of their business model.”

Complaints about locksmith services to the 114 BBBs serving the U.S. increased almost 75 percent from 2005 to 2006, and have continued to come in steadily during the first half of this year.

The BBB has identified Dependable Locksmith – which operates under more than a dozen different names – as a particularly disreputable locksmith. This company poses as a local locksmith in cities across the country and advertises in the yellow pages using local phone numbers and fake local addresses. A consumer might think they’re dealing with a local locksmith but their phone call is actually connected to a call center located in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Consumers are quoted a reasonable price over the phone but when the locksmith arrives – typically in an unmarked vehicle – he demands significantly more money than originally quoted, often only accepting cash.

A complaint from Cleveland, OH, where Dependable Locksmith was operating under the name “Superb Solutions,” alleges the company quoted fees of $39 and $84 for separate jobs, but the bill ended up at $471, which included add-on fees such as a $65 breaking in fee and a $58 fee to uninstall old locks.

Another complainant reported that the locksmith sent to let her into her car demanded she pay twice the price quoted over the phone. The locksmith offered to drive her to an ATM to get cash – feeling unsafe the victim refused. The victim was ultimately forced to write a check made out personally to the locksmith as he would not let her into her car until she did so. She cancelled payment on the check the next morning, but eventually filed a police report after the locksmith harassed her with continuous phone calls about payment.

The BBB has also heard many complaints from victims who say they were charged for unnecessary services. For example, complainants suspect locksmiths sent over by Dependable Locksmiths of pretending they couldn’t simply pick the lock so that they could charge more and install all new locks in homes.

Some of Dependable Locksmith’s aliases include, Superb Solutions, Locksmith 24 Hour, Inc., USA Total Security, Priceline Locksmith, and S.O.S. Locksmith.

Two other locksmith contractors fleecing consumers are Basad, Inc. – which operates under more than 50 names nationwide, such as A-1 Locksmith Service, A-1 24 Hour Locksmith, A-1 Lock & Key Locksmith, and AAA Locksmith 24 Hour – and Liberty Locksmith. Similar to Dependable Locksmith, they pose as local locksmiths and run full-page yellow pages ads with multiple phone and address listings. The phone numbers appear to be local, but connect to national call centers such as Liberty’s in New York City, while the addresses end up belonging to other established businesses in the local area, or are simply non-existent.

Liberty Locksmith had been a BBB member in Tulsa, OK, but during normal BBB member validation processes, it was discovered that the addresses provided by the company were false. In June 2007, the BBB terminated the membership of Liberty Locksmith for providing false information in its membership application and providing misleading advertisements to the public.

Like others, Liberty Locksmith and Basad, Inc. use common cons such as quoting one price over the phone, but then charging significantly more on site.

“These companies are very good at posing as trustworthy locksmiths,” said Mr. Cox. “Before you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being locked out of your car or house, do your research and find a truly dependable locksmith in your area. Ask around and always check with the BBB first to find reputable businesses.”

If you feel you’ve been taken advantage of by Dependable Locksmith, Liberty Locksmith, Basad. Inc., or others, please contact the BBB to file a complaint, or do so online at www.bbb.org.

# # #
About the BBB System

BBB is an unbiased, non-profit entity that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses and charities that earn BBB membership contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free business Reliability Reports and charity Wise Giving Reports, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 128 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring more than 3 million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information about the BBB System.

# # #

Reporters and journalists may contact Steve Cox, CBBB's Vice President, Communications, or call 703.276.0100 to request an interview or additional information.
If you are a consumer who is seeking additional information, or need assistance with a complaint against a business, please contact your local BBB, visit the BBB web site (www.bbb.org) or call 703.276.0100.


About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Trademarks | Terms & Conditions of Use | Contact Us
© 2003 Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Le
  12th of Jul, 2007
0 Votes

Skepticism The Key To Avoiding Locksmith Scam

Advertisement

July 12, 2007

• Read More Scam Alerts ...

Perhaps playing on consumers' security fears, a handful of operators, posing as locksmith companies, are ripping off consumers coast to coast.

The companies, all employing similar tactics, are significantly overcharging consumers, charging consumers for unnecessary services, using intimidation tactics, and failing to give refunds or respond to consumer complaints, according to the Better Business Bureau.

“Ironically, these companies operate under names like ‘Dependable Locksmith’ but in reality they exploit the vulnerable situation of consumers who are locked out of their house or car,” said Steve Cox spokesperson for the BBB System. “We’ve found that some locksmiths have made taking advantage of consumers’ misfortune part of their business model.”

Complaints about locksmith services to the 114 BBBs serving the U.S. increased almost 75 percent from 2005 to 2006, and have continued to come in steadily during the first half of this year.

The BBB has singled out Dependable Locksmith – which operates under more than a dozen different names – for harsh criticism, calling it “particularly disreputable.”

The group says the company poses as a local locksmith in cities across the country and advertises in the yellow pages using local phone numbers and fake local addresses. A consumer might think they’re dealing with a local locksmith but their phone call is actually connected to a call center located in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Consumers are quoted a reasonable price over the phone but when the locksmith arrives – typically in an unmarked vehicle – he demands significantly more money than originally quoted, often only accepting cash.

A complaint from Cleveland, OH, where Dependable Locksmith was operating under the name “Superb Solutions,” alleges the company quoted fees of $39 and $84 for separate jobs, but the bill ended up at $471, which included add-on fees such as a $65 breaking in fee and a $58 fee to uninstall old locks.

Another complainant reported that the locksmith sent to let her into her car demanded she pay twice the price quoted over the phone. The locksmith offered to drive her to an ATM to get cash. Feeling unsafe the victim refused.

The victim said she was ultimately forced to write a check made out personally to the locksmith, claiming he would not let her into her car until she did so. She cancelled payment on the check the next morning, but eventually filed a police report after the locksmith harassed her with continuous phone calls about payment.

The BBB also reports complaints from victims who say they were charged for unnecessary services. For example, complainants suspect locksmiths sent over by Dependable Locksmiths of pretending they couldn’t simply pick the lock so that they could charge more and install all new locks in homes.

Some of Dependable Locksmith’s aliases include, Superb Solutions, Locksmith 24 Hour, Inc., USA Total Security, Priceline Locksmith, and S.O.S. Locksmith, according to the BBB.

More Scam Alerts ...

Report Your Experience
If you've had a bad experience with a consumer product or service, we'd like to hear about it. All complaints are reviewed by class action attorneys and are considered for publication on our site. Knowledge is power! Help spread the word. File your consumer report now.


bookmark this on del.icio.ussave this be the first to bookmark this page!

July 12 2007

Verizon Signs Florida Anti-Cramming Agreement
• Ameriquest to Pay $325 Million to Homeowners
Gas Price Increases Ahead
Vet Sounds Warning on Internet Pet Sales
FDA Approves New LASIK Device
Skepticism The Key To Avoiding Locksmith Scam
AOL Pays $3 Million, Promises to Clean Up Cancellation Process
Consumers Bilked of $17.5 Billion in Overdraft Loans
Apple Denies iPhone Nano Reports
More News ...

Trip Tricks: What to Know Before You Go
Watch Out for Restocking Fees
Young and In Debt

Hoodwinked by Hoodia

Who's Screening the Screeners?

Going Once: Buying a Home at Auction

Food Fads: The Raw Truth

More Videos ...

Nissan Recalls 140,000 Altimas
Bonjour Cooking Torches
Milwaukee Power Tool Battery Packs
Mag Stix Recalled After Serious Intestinal Injury
"Essentials" Children's Jewelry
Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Nitro Recall
Algoma Hammock Stands
Infantino Toy Castles
Veggie Booty Snacks
More Recalls ...
READER SERVICES

Subscribe

Weekly Newsletter
Enter your e-mail

Daily Newsletter
Enter your email

Advertisement

Terms of Use Your use of this site constitutes acceptance of the Terms of Use

Advertisements on this site are placed and controlled by outside advertising networks. ConsumerAffairs.Com does not evaluate or endorse the products and services advertised. See the FAQ for more information.

Company Response Welcome If complaints about your company appear on our site, we welcome your response. Please see the Response Form for more information.

For more information, see the FAQ and privacy policy. The information on this Web site is general in nature and is not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice. ConsumerAffairs.Com Inc. makes no representation as to the accuracy of the information herein provided and assumes no liability for any damages or loss arising from the use thereof.

Copyright © 2003-2007 ConsumerAffairs.Com Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Le
  12th of Jul, 2007
0 Votes

July 12, 2007

• Read More Scam Alerts ...
Perhaps playing on consumers' security fears, a handful of operators, posing as locksmith companies, are ripping off consumers coast to coast.

The companies, all employing similar tactics, are significantly overcharging consumers, charging consumers for unnecessary services, using intimidation tactics, and failing to give refunds or respond to consumer complaints, according to the Better Business Bureau.

“Ironically, these companies operate under names like ‘Dependable Locksmith’ but in reality they exploit the vulnerable situation of consumers who are locked out of their house or car,” said Steve Cox spokesperson for the BBB System. “We’ve found that some locksmiths have made taking advantage of consumers’ misfortune part of their business model.”

Complaints about locksmith services to the 114 BBBs serving the U.S. increased almost 75 percent from 2005 to 2006, and have continued to come in steadily during the first half of this year.

The BBB has singled out Dependable Locksmith – which operates under more than a dozen different names – for harsh criticism, calling it “particularly disreputable.”

The group says the company poses as a local locksmith in cities across the country and advertises in the yellow pages using local phone numbers and fake local addresses. A consumer might think they’re dealing with a local locksmith but their phone call is actually connected to a call center located in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Consumers are quoted a reasonable price over the phone but when the locksmith arrives – typically in an unmarked vehicle – he demands significantly more money than originally quoted, often only accepting cash.

A complaint from Cleveland, OH, where Dependable Locksmith was operating under the name “Superb Solutions,” alleges the company quoted fees of $39 and $84 for separate jobs, but the bill ended up at $471, which included add-on fees such as a $65 breaking in fee and a $58 fee to uninstall old locks.

Another complainant reported that the locksmith sent to let her into her car demanded she pay twice the price quoted over the phone. The locksmith offered to drive her to an ATM to get cash. Feeling unsafe the victim refused.

The victim said she was ultimately forced to write a check made out personally to the locksmith, claiming he would not let her into her car until she did so. She cancelled payment on the check the next morning, but eventually filed a police report after the locksmith harassed her with continuous phone calls about payment.

The BBB also reports complaints from victims who say they were charged for unnecessary services. For example, complainants suspect locksmiths sent over by Dependable Locksmiths of pretending they couldn’t simply pick the lock so that they could charge more and install all new locks in homes.

Some of Dependable Locksmith’s aliases include, Superb Solutions, Locksmith 24 Hour, Inc., USA Total Security, Priceline Locksmith, and S.O.S. Locksmith, according to the BBB.

Le
  13th of Jul, 2007
0 Votes

July 13, 2007
Locksmiths Pick Your Wallet

> Posted by at 11:13:58 AM
If you've got a bone to pick with a locksmith over an inflated bill, you might want to call the local Better Business Bureau and file a complaint. Maybe even the police.

The BBB released a warning this week about locksmiths who quote one price over the phone only to show up at your doorstep demanding much higher fees.

The BBB says it has identified Dependable Locksmith – which operates under more than a dozen different names – as a particularly disreputable locksmith. This company, like other similar schemes, poses as a local locksmith in cities across the country and advertises in the yellow pages using local phone numbers and fake local addresses. Consumers might think they’re dealing with a local locksmith but their phone call is actually connected to a call center.

Two other locksmith contractors to avoid are Basad, Inc. – which operates under more than 50 names nationwide, such as A-1 Locksmith Service, A-1 24 Hour Locksmith, A-1 Lock & Key Locksmith, and AAA Locksmith 24 Hour – and Liberty Locksmith, according to the BBB.

Complaints about locksmith services to the 114 BBBs serving the U.S. increased almost 75 percent from 2005 to 2006, and have continued to come in steadily during the first half of this year.

One woman had to eventually call police after a locksmith tried to double her fee for opening her locked car and refused to let her in until she paid. He later harassed her after she cancelled the check.

To file a complaint with the South Florida branch of the BBB, visit www.bbbsoutheastflorida.org/ or call 561-842-1918.

I'd suggest skipping the Yellow Pages for expensive jobs and get recommendations from the BBB or from friends or neighbors. And never hesitate to file a complaint against a bad company.

Le
  18th of Jul, 2007
0 Votes

Locked out? Don't fall for locksmith scam
MSNBC contributor
11:32 AM EST July 13, 2007

Most locksmiths are honest. A few are not. According to a new warning from the Better Business Bureau, these untrustworthy locksmiths are "ripping off consumers" across the country. The BBB says this "nationwide locksmith swindle" has already resulted in more than a thousand complaints.

"We know that there are thousands more people across the country who have been victims and don't even know it," says Alison Preszler with the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The BBB blames most of the problem on two companies: Dependable Locksmith (New York) and Basad Inc. (Englewood, Colo.). These two firms also operate in other major cities across the country using dozens of generic aliases, such as AAA Locksmith, A-1 Locksmith and 24 Hour Locksmith – names that are also widely used by reputable companies.

The BBB says unhappy customers complain that Dependable and Basad significantly overcharge, charge for unnecessary services, and use intimidation tactics. In some cases, the final bill is four times as much as the quoted price.

"They have made taking advantage of people who are locked out of their house or car part of their business model," Preszler says.

In Oak Creek, Wis., Carol Pintar was locked out her car on a cold night in December. She looked in the Yellow Pages and found a locksmith in nearby South Milwaukee. They told her the price would be $35.

The locksmith arrived in an unmarked vehicle, rather than a commercial van. That's usually the case with these dishonest operations. Pintar said he demanded payment upfront – another warning sign. But the price wasn't $35 as quoted. It was $95.

"I did give him the money, but I really felt funny about the whole situation," she says. "I just knew it was some kind of scam, so I called the Better Business Bureau."

The BBB's Alison Preszler told me, "Many victims have come to us and said they knew they were being taken advantage of, but felt helpless to argue."

Show me the money.

Noelle, who lives in Cleveland, Ohio felt that way. She asked me not to use her last name because she has already been harassed by the company. Last August, after returning to a friend's house from a rock concert, Noelle realized she had locked her keys in the car. It was 2 a.m.

Noelle looked in the phone book and found "24-Hour Locksmith." She called and was told the charge would be $40. When the locksmith arrived – in an unmarked vehicle – he told Noelle he'd have to break the door to get it open. "He said he'd have to use a crow bar or break the window," she told me.

But there was a better option. For another $60, he could use a Slim Jim and pop the door open with no damage. Noelle agreed to the new fee of $100.

Once the door was open, Noelle was told the bill was $250.

"And I was like, excuse me! How do I owe you $250?"

The guy told her there were fees and service charges. And because she was going to pay by check, there was a check-processing fee. He volunteered to drive her to an ATM to get cash, but Noelle didn't like that idea.

"He would not give me my keys back until I gave him a check for $250. I was very upset because I realized I was being taken advantage of," she told me. But she needed to get into her car, so she paid.

A few days later, Noelle decided to visit the company, to complain in person. She found several locations listed in the phone book, but they all were bogus addresses.

A common trick.

Each of these companies uses a slick trick to appear as if they're a local locksmith. They place ads in phone directories and on the Internet using fake local addresses and phone numbers that ring at a call center in another part of the country. For instance, dial one of the Dependable Lock companies and your call will be routed to New York.

"Consumers think they're calling a reputable locksmith and they're quoted a price that seems very reasonable," says Claire Rosenzweig, President and CEO of the BBB of Metropolitan New York. "Then these people show up and charge more than you expected."

For the record: I called both companies and could not find anyone who would talk to me about the BBB's allegations. The attorney for Dependable Locks returned my call, but would only talk off the record. His only on-the-record comment? No comment.

The bottom line.

The Better Business Bureau suggests finding a good locksmith before you need one. That's a good idea, but most people don't do that.

So, how do you protect yourself? Be careful. Don't pick a company at random based on an ad in the phone book. If you're stuck in a situation where you need help right away, try to find a familiar name.

If you can get to a computer, you can check the company online 24/7 on the BBB's Web site. If not, call a friend and see if they know of a good local company.

If you're a member of AAA, you might want to use their locksmith service.

Be suspicious of anyone who shows up in an unmarked vehicle. Never pay before the work is done. Whenever possible, use a credit card. It has built in fraud protection. Finally, if you're not comfortable with the person who shows up, don't use them.

If you do get burned, let someone know about it. File complaints with the Better Business Bureau and your state's consumer protection or Attorney General's office.

Post your comment