D+AS MAGAZINE

FEATURES — Bad Bob Invades the Locksmith Industry

© 2007 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Fall 2007
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Pages 38-39


Bad Bob Invades the Locksmith Industry

Editor’s Note: In March 2006, the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) contacted DASMA, asking about our magazine articles on “Bad Bob’s Yellow Pages Scheme,” as we called it in our spring 2003 issue. ALOA said they had a similar scheme running amok in their industry.

ALOA invited me to speak at their 2007 convention to share more insights into the scheme. I came to realize that the similarities between the two schemes are indeed startling (see sidebar).

I have no reason to suspect that the same people are running both schemes. Yet, I believe that our two industries can learn much from each other. Can our industry use some of ALOA’s tactics? You decide.


Bad Bob has invaded the locksmith industry. The 8,000-member ALOA has responded with several aggressive steps to fight the spread of these companies across the United States.

“The story is familiar in many states,” says Tim McMullen, ALOA’s legislative manager. “An out-of-state company hires a number of unscrupulous individuals in the area to subcontract its work using assumed business names, fake addresses, and thousands of phone numbers.”

The Typical Scheme
In a typical scheme, these companies use giant Yellow Pages ads to attract phone calls from consumers who are locked out of their cars or homes. Advertising immediate service (sometimes as quick as 20 minutes), the company gives the consumer the impression that the service will cost as little as $50 to $75, but it usually costs $150 or much more. Shoddy and unnecessary repairs are common.

In April 2006, the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper reported the case of a locksmith charging a 67-year-old man more than $1,700 to get into his locked house, “about 17 times the price most locksmiths charge.” That locksmith pleaded guilty to home repair fraud and was ordered to make partial restitution.

In June 2007, a San Francisco television station reported on a locksmith who charged an 86-year-old woman $1,500 for one lock. The locksmith, caught on a TV news sting, was jailed. Police were pursuing charges of elder abuse and obtaining money under false pretenses.

Authorities are fighting back. Several governmental agencies, including the Ohio attorney general, the Illinois attorney general, and the City of Chicago, are vigorously pursuing these operations. In July 2007, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warned consumers of a “nationwide locksmith swindle” that has generated more than 1,000 complaints to the BBB.

ALOA Takes Action
ALOA has taken action in several ways to curtail these fraudulent operations. A primary effort has been directed to the attorney general in each state.

“We’re trying to get the attorneys general involved so they can prosecute,” says McMullen, who has attended two meetings of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Consumer Protection Division in the last year. “They told me that, in order to pursue these locksmith scams, they need citizen complaints.”

In response, ALOA created a complaint page for consumers, accessible from the front page of their Web site. The page offers a U.S. map; clicking on any state takes the user directly to an official complaint form for that state.

The ALOA Web site has also built a database of published news stories about locksmiths who have taken advantage of consumers in need of emergency service. This “Press Room” includes links to more than 40 news stories about such locksmiths. These stories are usually from local television and newspaper Web sites in major cities such as San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver, Tulsa, Kansas City, Dallas, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston, and Fort Lauderdale.

Finding the Culprits
McMullen says the attorneys general urged him to find specific companies that are involved in the scheme. Toward that goal, one ALOA member posed as a customer and called 70 phone numbers taken from locksmiths’ Yellow Pages ads from all over the country.

“Every one of those phone numbers had the exact same woman answering the phone,” says McMullen.

The woman represented one locksmith company, located in the Bronx section of New York City, that operates under many names, including Price Line Locksmiths, Dependable Locks, USA Total Security, and Superb Solutions. According to the BBB, this company has been the target of dozens of complaints in the last year. McMullen says that at this point, he is aware of seven companies that are responsible for many of the nationwide complaints.

Defense by Documents
ALOA has sent a letter and several supporting documents to every attorney general in the nation, notifying them of the locksmith scam that is active in each state. (A copy of the letter is on the ALOA Web site at www.aloa.org.)

The ALOA Web site includes a press release for local locksmiths to download, customize, and send to their local news media. The release warns consumers about the typical activities of the scheme.

The Push for Licensing
ALOA is now encouraging locksmiths in each state to push for state legislation that would require licensing for locksmiths. Though some locksmiths have opposed the effort, ALOA has successfully gained nine states that require licensing.

“I think licensing is the way to go,” says McMullen. “It’s crazy that a barber needs to be licensed, but not a locksmith. In Illinois and California, the attorney general has used the locksmith licensing statute to prosecute these companies.” He believes that licensing will also lead the way to greater professionalism in the industry.

ALOA’s model legislation notes that licensing is needed because of “the unscrupulous use and abuse of the tools and knowledge of locksmithing.” Since locksmiths have the ability to gain access through virtually any locked vehicle or facility, the case for locksmith licensing may be greater than the case for licensing of garage door technicians.

Or is it?

To respond to this story, send an e-mail to daseditor@dasma.com.


SIDEBAR
Common Tactics

Here’s a list of 15 tactics that are used in running the “Bad Bob” scheme in the locksmith industry and the garage door industry.

Target “Stuck” Consumers
Use Giant Yellow Pages Ads
Purchase Ads with National Rates
Prey on Big Cities
Use Multiple Ads
Use Many Company Names
Use Many Phone Numbers
Ads Promote Fast Response
Ads Use Phony Truck Images
Ads Promise Discounts/Low Prices
Focus on Repair/Emergency Work
Phony Address or No Address
Use Out-of-State Call Center
Use Subcontractors
Charge High Prices