Existing businesses hear of customers being ripped off
A national trend in shady locksmithing has hit home, leaving Tucson's legitimate locksmiths looking for ways to combat the problem and stay in business.
The trend hits consumers in a particularly vulnerable spot - the locks that help keep them and their valuables safe.
The new Dex phone book contains several locksmith listings for companies with different names that each have 24 different phone numbers and 10 different addresses. The phone numbers and addresses for each of the businesses are exact duplicates of those listed for the other businesses.
There is no building at the sites of at least four of the 10 addresses listed for A O A Locksmith, which also goes by the names A 01 Locksmith, Absolute Locksmith and several others scattered throughout the white business pages of the phone book.
"It's a very bad business practice. It's giving a lot of us a bad name," said Justin Ashler, an employee of Al's Locksmith and Security Hardware Inc.
Ashler has been working to organize longtime Tucson locksmiths, who met last week to discuss the newcomers. Al's is getting daily reports of people being ripped off, he said.
Such reports include people being overcharged for small jobs and people who pay a 400 percent to 700 percent markup for parts, he said. Shady locksmiths have also been showing up at jobs for which they weren't hired and pretending to be the company that was hired, again overcharging in the process, Ashler said.
Meanwhile, "my phone has pretty much stopped ringing for any weekday calls," so they're definitely hurting business, he said.
The phenomenon apparently is not limited to Tucson. The September issue of Keynotes, a monthly magazine published by the Associated Locksmiths of America, has a two-page article about it.
"In 2007, we are faced with an epidemic that our industry has not seen before," writes author Jason Gage. "It is the epidemic of the locksmith scammers, aka Locksmith mafia, aka Locksmith Gypsies, aka Fraud smiths, or whatever else your state may categorize them under."
The scammers purchase hundreds of phone numbers in a single local area, often buying the numbers from the main local phone provider through the scammer's own phone companies, Gage writes.
"When these numbers are advertised, it is not uncommon to find a false address and a false business name attached to them. This is done to give the customer a nice warm feeling that they are calling a local company that may be close to them," he writes.
No business licenses
A O A Locksmith, A 01 Locksmith and Absolute Locksmith do not have city of Tucson business licenses. These three companies share addresses and telephone numbers with each other and with several other companies listed in the new phone book.
The companies would definitely need licenses to do business within the city limits, said Beverly Moe, financial services supervisor in the city licensing section.
Even if they provide only a service and don't sell anything for which they would collect sales tax, they would still need a non-tax license, she said.
By contrast, Al's Locksmith, AAA Lock and Key and A&Z Safe Lock and Key - three of Tucson's established locksmiths with names found in the same part of the phone listings - all have business licenses.
A O A, A 01 and Absolute are all registered with the Arizona Corporation Commission as "doing business as" names for an organization called Complete Services LLC, based in Tempe.
Daniel Montalvo, who is listed as the company's statutory agent on commission paperwork filed in January 2006, said he's an accountant who set up the corporation and did one year's tax returns for it, but he said he hasn't done anything since then for the company.
A phone book listing yielded a phone number that is not in service for Yigal Lampert, who is listed on corporate paperwork as a corporation member and whose address is the same as the corporate address.
Calls Friday to two phone numbers listed for the Complete Services companies themselves routed into the same call center. One operator said the company management doesn't like to talk to reporters, and the second operator said the managers would be gone all day.
That operator also was unsure what phone number he had answered because the company has many numbers, he said. Neither person gave his name, each saying he just answers the phone.
Wouldn't give full name
Later Friday a man who said he is a manager for Complete Services called but would not give his full name. He said it has nothing to do with the company and that for personal privacy reasons he does not want his name in the paper.
He said the company is based in Phoenix and began servicing the Tucson area about a month ago. When questioned about the nonexistent addresses, he said the addresses are listed only to show callers that the company provides service in those areas and it is not intended for customers to go to the company locations.
He said the company now has one contractor who does the locksmith work and that there were problems with a previous contractor until about two weeks ago, when that person was replaced.
But that story doesn't jibe with what local locksmiths are seeing and hearing.
Jon L. Hoyt, owner of AAA Lock and Key, is feeling particularly victimized because so many of the phone book listings are similar in name to his own company, he said.
And every day, Hoyt said, he gets calls from people who are upset with locksmiths supposedly from his company, but once he gets a vehicle description or license plate number, he finds that it wasn't one of his people after all.
He's seen a "drastic dip" in service calls in the time since the new phone book was issued, he said.
"There's no scruples and there's no integrity," he said.
The locksmiths who met last week are gathering again this week and hope to arm themselves with enough information to get the Arizona attorney general to investigate, Ashler said.
"All we can do is make as much noise as possible," he said.