Federal Bust of Dependable Locksmith in Florida Strikes at Heart of National Locksmith Scams

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Update 3:30 11/05/09: Glenn Younger of Grah Safe & Lock, forwarded me this piece from the RiverFrontTimes that details the scam and the charges. It’s a great read. A snippet:

The complaint alleges that telephone dispatchers for Dependable Locks were instructed by managers to quote a price of $54 for a car lockout, while the responding technician was instructed by managers to charge up to $179 once services had been provided.

The telephone dispatchers were instructed to misrepresent or understate the possibility of additional charges above the price quoted. The market rate for a standard car lockout is typically about $60. The locksmiths were instructed to charge significantly more than the price quoted, and significantly more than usual market rates. Technicians use techniques such as accusing the consumer who objects to the overcharge of “theft of services,” threatening to call the police, withholding the customer’s keys or driver’s license, or following the customer to an ATM machine to ensure payment.

The locksmith technicians allegedly are allowed to split the profits of the fraudulently procured locksmith services with the company, typically 50/50 or 60/40, and that the technicians are required to remit the company’s share of the proceeds by regularly purchasing and shipping money orders to the Dependable Locks location in Clearwater.

The affidavit states that Eliyahu Barhanun, David Peer and Moshe Aharoni conspired with the managers of Dependable Locks to implement a scheme to procure overcharges for locksmith services.

On November 4th, US Postal Inspectors stormed Dependable Locksmith’s headquarters in Clearwater, Fl. Dependable has been one of the companies frequently mentioned as it related to the national locksmith scams. The raid was coordinated with authorities in Missouri and apparently more arrests are to made. This is the same company that the Missouri Attorney General charged with “deceiving and overcharging customers in Kansas City” in April of this year. Their BBB report includes an F Rating and  numerous complaints and has more the look of a rap sheet than a business review.

Things seem to be looking up in the Locksmith industry and legitimate locksmiths must, for the first time in several years, be seeing a glimmer of hope. It appears that Google is also making progress in their efforts to control and minimize the damage that scammers in this industry have wrought. More on that in a later post.

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38 thoughts on “Federal Bust of Dependable Locksmith in Florida Strikes at Heart of National Locksmith Scams”

  1. & to thought that the basis of those mega spammers & rip offers in the last 1.5 years is Google Maps!!! Think how many people suffered from their spams, scams & theft actions.
    Thanks for publishing this, Mike!!!!

    Just an update- their phone lines are dead in the US but in Canada they are still alive.
    Is it the beginning of a new era in the Locksmith field in which the forces of light will rule the industry ?! If it’s depend(able) on Google- it’ll not happen… (that fast!!).
    BTW- I started sending Google a super-lists of this companies’ trillion names, DBA, URLs, sites, etc.. 2.5 years ago, nothing helped..

    (Mike, I’m sorry I always sounds pessimistic in your blog :) )

  2. @PureSheer

    It is has become a huge, international problem that will take as long, or longer to fix that it did to occur.

    Are Dependable’s listing still in Maps? In US? In Canada?

  3. @Mike

    They are still all over the place!! all over the 7 packs & all over the organic results. But their lines in the US are dead.

  4. Based on Puresheer’s comments it could be said that Google might have been the #1 crime aider and abetter of the locksmith’s spams over the past 1.5 to 2.5 years.

    I suspect their phone numbers and websites were reached more by searches in Google than from any other source.

  5. @earlpearl
    You got it!!
    & without any costs- site is free by Weebly or others, advertising platform is free (Google Maps, Yahoo Local, etc..). Only salaries & DID (which costs $0.75 per month)
    So hilarious :-(

  6. Nice to finally see some action from the law enforcement side.

    No doubt, some of the folks ripped off by ‘Dependable’ found the listings via Google Maps, but locksmith scammers (and other phony ‘local’ businesses) have been placing local sounding name companies/fake addresses/remote call forwarding listings and running myriad ads in print Yellow Pages for years.

    It’s not just a Google Maps problem, it’s a data problem created by low RCF costs coupled with publishers willing to sell out users for the right price. BTW, these listings appear to get tagged with zip codes based on the local exchange portion of the numbers (even without addresses) by phone number publishers.

    The big data providers pick up the junk since it’s marked like real local info – and then further spread the pollution.

    Little will change as long as the pipeline creating and feeding the data resolves to clean it up.

  7. Cathy has a great point about the complete food chain is polluted top to bottom and there is not real way to tell virtual from real any more.

    The problem is that Google by virtue of how they have designed their clustering algo, sweeps ALL this stuff up, to some extent validates it and most definitely amplifies it. Giving what used to be a mostly local problem, a national platform.

  8. Have to agree with Cathy regardign the entire food chain.

    This goes back to the break up of Ma Bell. Phone companies required to share their lists, and all the directories that get the lists publish them as if they were all good.

    I believe that the other shoe to fall will be insiders at the phone companies, or the phone company software provider Amdocs. The new phone listing just all came to fast to be generated normally. In one weeks time thousands of new numbers.

    The cautionary tale for Google, Yahoo and others is that all data is not created equal.
    They can not just publish things without scrubing first. Google is,at it’s heart, just a big directory.
    We reamin hopeful!

  9. Mike the vid here starts AUTOMATICALLY and we can’t turn it off during the up front advert part…

    a real irritation to me at least….specially when I want to re-read this one!

    :-(

    Jim

  10. I struggled with that and I agree…I looked the code but couldn’t figure out how to shut it up….you have to listen to the ad and then pause it…

    Anyone know their embed commands better than I that can suggest a way to keep it but keep it quiet?

  11. Which one is Dependable locksmith? Are they the same as Millenium Locksmith, Absolute Locksmith, Complete Locksmith, 1800 Locksmith?

  12. We’ve been working with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office over the past, I don’t know, six months. I reveiced a call from them last tuesday (November 17th). They told me that they have just filed a lawsuit against dependable locks as well. And I don’t know if it’s related or not, but in the last three weeks, I’ve received 5 calls for car lock outs…my first five in probably 8 months. I’m glad that the wheels are finally turning, and that these guys are under them.

  13. Mike asked: “Are Dependable’s listing still in Maps? In US? In Canada?”

    Maybe Dependable Locksmith Inc isn’t. But the several other scamming locksmith companies are. Just look at the Sponsored Links saying “$25 Locksmith” and “$29 Locksmith” if you want to know an idea on who some of the other remaining scammer-locksmith companies are.

    How much does Google profit by those sponsored links?

  14. I have not followed up on the spammy listings in Maps….I have heard that Google has done a reasonably decent job of late at removing them but I don’t know that first hand.

    Google takes a somewhat hands off approach to Adwords but i am sure that they would step in if there were reports of abuse there.

  15. Depandable’s sites, listings, ads, phone #s, call centers, etc.. are alive & kicking. They are operating out of the states.

    Google cleaned the Maps good (I’d scored it 6.5 out of 10). PPC is still widely polluted.

    NO company in the industry charging $25/ $29 for the service, neither do Dependable (if you know what I mean).

  16. Oh,
    & Google is doing good money from that in Adwords & learning even more from that in the Maps.

  17. PureSheer wrote: “NO company in the industry charging $25/ $29 for the service, neither do Dependable (if you know what I mean).”

    No the “$25 Locksmith” and “$29 Locksmith” stuff is just their “service fee”. It’s deceptive advertising.

    As Google reacted to an Attorney General who reacted some years after people started reporting this stuff, I wouldn’t expect Google to catch on to the deceptive Sponsored Links any time soon. You have to call the people to know that they’re screwing customers. You can’t judge just by what their spamming strategy is, or by whether their address is a brick-n-mortar shop or not.

    I don’t know if Dependable is alive and kicking. But I do know there are several other companies out there. They’re not just the long lists of phone numbers with weird business names and fake addresses. They’re also moneyed-enough to buy full page ads in the yellow pages, and sponsored links on Google. Those are the guys still taking the most calls from the most customers and ripping them off. Via deceptive advertising, not just deceptive price quotes on the phone.

  18. More on the “$25 Locksmith” and $29 Locksmith” ads in Google’s “Sponsored Links”…

    If you call any of those companies, you’ll find they are still quoting what Dependable and the spin-offs have been quoting for a long while: “$39 for the service fee, and $15 or more for the labor”. When the customer responds, “But what about the $29 I’m seeing on Google?” then they drop that “service fee” by $10. So now it sounds like at least you got a $10 break, and it’s still cheaper than “those other locksmiths” (those “expensive guys” that are honestly naming their flat rate… and who are, ironically, actually the much cheaper guys).

    Regardless of calling themselves “”$25 Locksmith”, the overall charge is in the end still $100 or more.

    People really need to pay more attention to what’s said on the phone. The scammers are never going away. So it’s up to the consumers to be more pro-active by listening closer and thinking it through. In fact, even these news stories get it wrong. The scammers don’t say $54 and then “overcharge” as the news reporters keep reporting. They say, “$39 for the service fee, and $15 or more for the labor”. That sounds like it adds up to $54 — IF you’re not paying attention to the most important part of what just got said. Which is the “or more” part of it. And most people miss the implication of that, somehow.

    Almost daily I get a customer who turns my flat fee of $60 down, because he’s going to go with the “cheaper locksmith” who quoted him, in effect, “Somewhere between $54 and infinity”. Or because he’s going to go with the $25 guy in Google’s sponsored links who quotes him (in effect), “Somewhere between $40 and infinity”.

    The scam is easy to avoid. Just get a total price. Don’t deal in approximates. Then hold the locksmith to it (preferably in writing before he touches your car). Last week a guy complained to me, “That other guy I called said it’d be somewhere between $40 and $95!” So, that particular scammer did actually name his full price. Problem was, as the customer himself explained: “I assumed it would just be $40! After all, it’s a Chevy not a Rolls Royce!” So it wasn’t an issue an overcharging so much an issue of misleading the customer. The customer didn’t understand why he’d been given a price range. He was told it had to do with the difficulty of the car, and customers tend to assume that inexpensive cars are the easier cars (which isn’t necessarily true). They are not wanting to show up and assess the car, the way they lead customers to believe. They want to show up and assess YOU. At the very least, they intend to leave with that “service fee” for having just showed up. They have the customer on a recording saying “Yes” to their “$29″ or “$39 service fee” and they think it’s their legal right to collect on that (in spite of the fact that nothing else they said was forthright enough to be honest, which I think legally would nullify any agreement made on the phone).

  19. i use to work for this company in riverdale ny and i always complained to management because of the type of complaints we would receive. Management did not care that our techs were ruining peoples cars and homes. i finally quit the company before they moved to florida but this israelie owned company was owned by a bunch of crooks that only focused on how much money that can milk the public. So if a tech ever comes to your house and hardley knows any english you should worry!!!

  20. the owners of this company are in iseal but their famaly and jewish friends run it and treat their employees as if they were in the iseali army or something promoting jewish kids that just come in rite away over poeple that worked for them for a while. hahaha to this company “GOD DOES NOT LIKE UGLY” i’m glad you were finally caught

  21. the funny part was how customers use to think they were calling their local locksmitgh but it was somehow being routed to this office no matter what state,city or town you called from.what a scam!!!!!!!!

  22. Mike in regards to a statement you made in this post, you refered to a local problem becoming a national problem. I just wanted to say this has always been a national problem. It was us locals that discovered it. These national companys that in my educated opinion are nothing more than Israeli based organized crime rings. They did this in the flower business and in the moving business and other things such as carpet cleaners etc.
    Im sure you are aware of the arrest of David Peer and two other of his associates by federal authoritys. Charges if I am not mistaken are Money laundering, wire fraud, mail fraud, and even structuring a business that used workers from Israel without having work visas.
    Anyway I just want to point out that there were no serious problems in the locksmith industry until these thugs came along. They now pratically own the internet and have created illeagle unfair competition as most real locksmiths dont have the means or knowledge to compete. Most locksmiths are too honest to stoop to all the shenanigans that these national companys are causing.

  23. What is sad is that we lose more and more freedom as the government gains and takes more of that freedom from us. The other side of the coin is that people behaving like this leaves no room for doubt as to why they take it away.

  24. In regards to Dependable still being in business. Based on information and belief they still are. Some of these phonys and I believe Dependable also which uses tons of names to hide behind are just shell corporations that are set up to hide behind. Dependable was once Priceline and when authoritys got to close It suddenly became Dependable aka all the other names that are out there. They claimed they purchased the assets of Priceline even though they were using all the Priceline Phonelines with phony addresses attached and they still acted if they had done nothing wrong. I believe they are still in business. I actually think that David Peer and the other ones busted are only front men for someone much bigger from Israel. One of the articles mentioned that money was being sent to a real estate in Israel. Just to let everyone here know I was sued by David Peer for 1,000,000.00 basically for being a whisle blower and exposing this phony locksmith scam early in the game. This lawsuit was a pack of lies and twisted truth. The federal Judge has dismissed me from the lawsuit But a few state of Illinois officials are still involved. I dont expect the lawsuit to win in any way but everyone is going thru hell defending themselves. One thing Dependable did was to scare of state officials from persuing them in fear of they might get sued. I personaly hope David Peer rots in prison. The last I heard he was extradited from florida to Missouri. This is by far not the end of the problem. The people at the top need to be dealt with. Just like I believe they are, Organized Crime. It is hard to get to the top of the ladder when you deal with organized crime. There are layers of protection and no one talks. They need to follow the money.

    One thing I believe might quell this problems is to hold all advertisors responsible. Yes, Charge them with aiding and abedding. It can be done especially in the states that are licensed. The licensed states would only have to prove that they were enabling unlicensed individuals and companys break the law, and in unlicensed states it would be a little harderer because one would have to prove much more. I am one that is not a big fan of licensing but I do recognize it as a tool for enforcement. If you ever noticed all of the phonys advertise they are licensed when truly they are not. Even where licensing is not required they say they are licensed.

    Anyway the Bust of these Few what I consider total sleaze bags is really nothind as I believe they are only lower level pawns. The money being made is mind boggling. I dont have an exact figure but I believe it is probably hundreds of millions by now nationwide and collectively.

    Google needs to address this problem as they are taking money from these types of companys also. Google run-local locksmith the 29.00 service locksmith that does not charge 29.00 locksmith service but much more. They will not give an exact quote and suprise the victim/consummer of the real charge many times after they do an opening. In Northern Illinois they are the top google sponsored ad in every community. Is Google responsible? I say yes. Will they Listen? I think a class action lawsuit will do the trick. I know that this is already being discussed between some attorneys who are licking their chops.

    This is far from over and like a forest fire every ember of this problem needs to be doused. To the ones out there who are actively fighting this please keep up the good work.

    Mike Bronzell
    Keyman424@aol.com

  25. On April 7, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler’s Consumer Protection Division issued a cease and desist order against Around the Clock Locksmith over fees charged for services
    NEWS STORY BY: BY NICK REES

    April 7, 2010

    BALTIMORE (Legal Newsline) – Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler’s Consumer Protection Division has issued a cease and desist order against a Maryland locksmith over fees charged for his services.

    ATCL-MD, Inc., known as Around the Clock Locksmith, and Joseph M. Horton, its owner, were alleged to have charged more than $4,300 to replace a lock and deadbolt and fees as high as $1,400 to respond to a consumer’s request for locksmith services.

    In its statement of charges, the division alleges that Around the Clock refuses to give an estimate of its fees to consumers or only provides extremely low estimates. When customers balked at paying the company’s undisclosed fees, their credit cards were then allegedly charged by the company without prior authorization.

    “You can’t provide a low estimate to get your foot in the door and then charge multiples of that estimate to perform the service,” Gansler said. “The Order requires the company to provide realistic estimates and to stick by them.”

    The Division also alleges that Around the Clock and Horton falsely used a competitor’s name to steal the competitor’s customers and misrepresented that the company was a member in good standing with the Better Business Bureau.

    Around the Clock and Horton were ordered by the Consumer Protection Division to immediately cease and desist from further engaging in unfair or deceptive trade practices. Restitution, penalties and costs will be determined following a June hearing.

  26. usa locksmith of HackenSack New Jersey is the same Israeli group
    also known as Prestige Business Solutions, P.O. Box 1140 Hackensack NJ 07602, Phone 800-721-5131, Fax 866-766-9677.
    They use Level III communications supplied phone numbers
    Most Seattle WA locksmiths are out of business, the Dex yellow pages has 2000 fake locksmith listings, the Google fraud is huge $29.Locksmith listings everywhere.
    We need a nationwide Google classaction lawsuit, to be started by the National locksmith association.

  27. Doug-
    “to be initiated by the National Locksmith’s Association”?? The NLA is a defunct group that is owned 100% by the National Publishing Group. They have no meetings, no agendas, and no chance of helping us with this one. They have ads in the back of thier mags advertising help wanted ads for groups like these.

    ALOA is the only true (inter)national association.

    There are enough laws for DAs to throw at these guys without lawsuits or licensing.

  28. just sharing with everyone i use to be a locksmith had my own company since march of 1994 had many nice times and had some bad days to one time i did a job for a customer who told me they called this company in the phone book and they had a attitude towards them well i told the customer they do not have to wait on them so i unlocked her car door for $ 45.00 which took me less than a minute to open i told her to get the name of the company that she called cause i never heard of the company came out i think it was the dependable company they had a small ad in the phone book

    i did some checking on things so i called the # myself and acted like i was locked out yep they love to swindle people but i was good at getting the info i needed from them at the time i not practicing locksmith service at this time due to bankruptcy and my license ran out but my mom on her death bed and when the time comes im moving to a new state and re open or work for another locksmith at night and my small engine shop in the day

    nice talking to you all

    calvin

  29. forgot to add i can let people know what to look for when dealing with a true locksmith

    They will ask for proof of ownership so do not be alarmed if this happens a true locksmith will ask for this credentials it covers the owner of the home or vehicle and it also covers the locksmith

    also ask for a price a true locksmith will say so much for making a key so much for labor and so much for a service call

    before they even go on the road

    thats what i did for many years someone ask me how much do i charge for a lost key for a auto i told the customer depends on the year and make of the vehicle most the times i told them anywhere between 75.00 to 125.00 for a key make it would not go over the 125.00 sometimes i spent hours on doing a key by the hard way taking the lock apart cause no code was found on the vehicle

    but me being honest i did not charge any extra when i set a price i stuck to it even if it did take me longer

    ALOA is a great place for locksmiths to be members of i plan on joining them when and if i ever redo this trade again it did have the stress but i loved doing it but it did keep me up half the night

    most of my work was getting police calls needing assistance

  30. This scam is alive and well–I just fell victim. Was locked out of my house in San Diego, picked a listing from Googling “San Diego Locksmith,” was quoted $39 over the phone, and was charged $204 for the service. I did a little digging and found that almost the entire first page of Google results from a search for San Diego Locksmiths leads to this fraudulent company: different company names, web addresses, phone numbers, and mailing addresses, but the exact same company nonetheless. Did locksmith searches in other major cities and found the same company operating with the same tricks: different names and web addresses, but identical content in the pages. This is a HUGE scam, people, and it’s as alive now as it was years ago. Who are these people? This must lead back to one major overseas corporation, raking in billions in this fraud.

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