‘Locksmiths’ pyramid scheme’ blocks Portland market
Portland, Oregon – Bill Blanchard was born in the locksmith business. His family opened their first key store in Southwest Portland in 1987. He started working for his family when he was just 6 years old.
“Locksmithing is something you are passionate about,” said Blanchard, who now runs the family business, AMAX Security Solutions.
A few years ago Blanchard said the industry took an unexpected turn. Legitimate locksmiths found themselves competing with companies they had never heard of.
Suddenly Internet searches revealed hundreds of locksmiths in Portland.
“The crooks just changed the game,” Blanchard said. “They will create an online presence and market themselves based on your reputation.”
The problem is, most of these locksmiths are not locksmiths at all. They are call centers.
“It has become a pyramid system of locksmiths, each independent of each other, but always interconnected,” explained Blanchard.
A search of the Yelp.com review site showed more than a dozen locksmiths located in Southwest Portland.
“AAA Locksmith All Gold” was listed at 1700 SW Jefferson Street. We found a vacant office there with a “For Rent” sign posted on the door.
Just down the street, Yelp.com showed “Locksmith Portland” located at 1728 Southwest Jefferson St. It was a Subway restaurant.
“15 Min Emergency Locksmith” was listed at 1200 Southwest Main Street. It was a church.
“This allows you to list a fake address to give a consumer the false sense of security that they believe they are calling someone who is near them, and that they are not actually calling someone who is near them. “said Blanchard.
These call centers often send out poorly trained contractors to help you open your car or home. Once there, consumers complain that many online locksmiths are raising prices.
In 2013, the Oregon Department of Justice warned consumers about these bogus locksmiths.
“You can be quoted a price over the phone, but when the locksmith arrives, often in an unmarked vehicle, he often wants a lot more money or pretends to only accept cash payments,” the attorney general wrote. Oregon, Ellen Rosenblum.
To test this scenario, we locked our keys in a 1998 Honda Civic. We received three quotes over the phone from legitimate locksmiths for $ 49.95, $ 70, and $ 80.
Then we found an online locksmith who offered a flat rate service call for $ 14. Breaking the lock would cost an additional $ 29, according to the company’s website.
The 24/7 Locksmith operator said he would send a technician to our location. He did not ask what type of car we had and did not provide a cost estimate.
In less than 20 minutes, a man in an unmarked truck arrived. He had a pit bull in the front seat.
“Are you looking for a locksmith? man said. I nodded, yes. “I’m your guy,” the driver said.
After a quick inspection, the man wrote down a quote on an invoice sheet. He wanted $ 159 to unlock our car, way more than legitimate locksmiths.
The technician tried to justify the price by saying it arrived quickly.
When asked for ID, the man, Michael Notas, showed us his Oregon driver’s license and a California locksmith’s license that was due to expire on February 29, 2016.
State regulators said Notas was not a certified locksmith in Oregon and did not have a license from the Building Contractors Council. He shouldn’t be working as a locksmith in Oregon.
Records show Notas is a convicted criminal. He pleaded guilty to the crime of DUI – Causing Body Injury in California in 2009.
In 2014, Multnomah County prosecutors indicted Notas with criminal possession of a restricted weapon. He had a dagger, according to court documents.
There are excellent locksmiths who work from cars and vans, although most of them have vehicles with a company name.
When confronted with a camera and microphone from KGW, Notas said he had to call his boss.
“I tried to make him pay $ 159, like everyone else, all day,” Notas tried to explain. “He’s the news guy!”
To protect yourself from fake locksmiths:
- Make sure the locksmith you call is certified. Call the CCB (503-378-4621) with a certification number or name or visit the CCB website (www.oregon.gov/ccb) and use the “search” function.
- Avoid any business that answers the phone with a generic phrase such as “locksmith services” rather than a specific business name.
- Beware of locksmiths in unmarked cars or trucks.
- Ask for an identity document with name and address.
- Get a written quote on company letterhead, with all costs and fees, before work begins.
- Once you’ve found a reputable locksmith, keep the company name and contact details in your cell phone.
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