The Lock Doc follows the ongoing saga of untrustworthy locksmiths operating in the Madison, Wisconsin area. This article is taken from NBC 15 when the story first broke as a consumer alert:
Original post can be found here: http://www.nbc15.com/home/headlines/40824917.html
NBC 15 Posted March 5, 2009
When you open the yellow pages and look up a Locksmith there are dozens of numbers. So how do you pick the right one? Tonight a consumer alert. Customers are so confused and when you watch this report you'll know why. For Peter Payleitner, memories of the problem still cover his kitchen table. He says, "I was in a very vulnerable position, extremely cold out, extremely late at night. I had to get in my house." One month ago a frozen lock left him stuck out in the cold, unable to get into his apartment. He called a Madison locksmith. He found the number online. They fixed the problem then presented him with this bill, six hundred five dollars for a service he says he's since found out others would only charge two hundred fifty. Payleitner says, "It's a situation where they can definitely take advantage of people because of where they are and these vulnerabilities of getting locked out of their house, getting locked out of their car." Kristine Young has a similar story. These are locks Crazy Larry's Locksmith put on her doors that she's already removed. She says, "They quoted me $9.95 to change a lock or to re-key a lock I should say." She expected a final bill of about 250 dollars. Young says, "He sits down with me, writes up the bill, hands it to me and it's $750." It lead to a heated exchange. She says, "Oh it was very awkward. My third grader was very upset because he was actually there when this first started to transpire and then later we whisked him upstairs. " We decided to get some answers for the customers but it was easier said than done. Several Madison Locksmiths listed in the yellow pages and online searches have the same phone numbers and addresses. In the yellow pages alone there are 51 locksmith listings and some can't be found at all. For example, Always Available Emergency Locksmith is supposed to be right here at 1135 Regent, you can see it's a flower shop." More than a dozen other addresses listed either don't exist or are other businesses. Carrie Abela owns Northgate Barber shop. She says, "I was a little shocked because you think you have your own business address." Abela has cut hair at the shop for more than 20 years. She was shocked to find out a locksmith is using her address in a yellow page ad. Abela says, "This is my establishment. It's my business, it has been for years and you are just saying that anyone else can grab this address and put anything out there? It's not right." Madison Locksmith is the company Peter and Kristine hired. One of their many online listings is here at 1 North Fairchild. Maybe a fire hydrant fits that address but there's no store here. It's taken some looking but we've been told this is a location where they actually operate. There is a van outside but this is a location that's not listed at all in the yellow pages. The two men who say they own the business agree to talk, but only if they can record the interview as well. Madison Locksmith Owner Joshua Burlin says, "This is something new, it's called points of service. Because we offer a mobile service not to confuse customers that they see a locksmith shop is over here on Park Street, one is on Regent Street, how are they going to know who's the closest and who can give a fast response." Doesn't it bother you though to be telling people you have a location there that doesn't exist? Burlin says, "No, we don't tell them we have a location. It's point of service." But you're listing addresses that are actually other people's businesses? Burlin says, "You know, it's intersections and it's, you know, basically these are what we call points of service." Madison Locksmith uses their Normandy Lane office as proof they are local. But they also say they've been doing business in town for about a year and according to records from the State Department of Financial Institutions their business was registered to a UPS box at this store until three days before our interview. Burlin says, "The problem is that other competition in town, they go around and say they have locations. Basically 30 years ago you'd have a location, a locksmith shop. Now everything is mobile. We have vans. We come to you. We do the service. That's how it works now so it's not locations, it's points of service." They say they have about a dozen phone numbers and operate under 5 names. They are Madison Locksmith, Crazy Larry's, Express Locksmith, 007 Locksmith and 24 hour Emergency Locksmith. But open the yellow pages and 3 of the first 4 listings, other names, match their phone numbers. Madison Locksmith and Crazy Larry's are the companies our customers called. As for Payleitner's complaints about being charged too much? Burlin says, "Our prices are our prices. We don't have to hide behind anything. If somebody doesn't want to pay that's fine. They can call somebody else. 1 o'clock in the morning I'm not sure who's going to pick up there but these are our prices." And they say all of their negotiations on price are fair. Burlin says, "We don't intimidate. Really, personally, what the company profits this is what I take home. You don't want to pay then don't pay. We try to work with our customers. We give a good service. We give the most professional service in Madison." It's a service they stand by despite the questions of others. If you need to hire a locksmith, the Better Business Bureau recommends making sure to get references from people you know who have used the company.