CLEARWATER, Fla. - The company is accused of preying on people in their most desperate moments. A national locksmith chain, which recently moved its headquarters from New York City to Clearwater, continues to rack up complaints by people who say they were taken advantage of when they needed a lock open in a hurry.
Over the course of a month, 10 Connects investigated "Dependable Locks" - a company that has more than a dozen alternate names, including several variations of "A 1 Locksmith." Hundreds of consumers have accused the company of deceptive sales practices and the themes of those complaints were caught on-camera when a 10 Connects executive producer called the company for emergency service.
Or, our follow-up reports on the federal raid or Florida's lack of locksmith legislation!
After calling the locksmith listing closest to her locked home in South Tampa, our producer was told someone would be there in less than 30 minutes. But the operator refused to tell her where they were located and when the locksmith called her cell phone to get directions, he refused to tell her where he was coming from.
Even though she was led to believe the locksmith was coming from the listed address just one mile away, our producer waited 40 minutes for someone to show up. He later said it was because he was coming all the way from Clearwater. And the $54 quote the phone operator begrudgingly gave her didn't really exist either.
"He looked at the door and said, 'Ooooh, that's one of the harder ones,' " she said, saying he then said it would cost $120.
But the locksmith was working harder on his acting than the lock. He had the door open after jiggling a simple tool in the keyhole for about 60 seconds.
When 10 Connects encountered the man from Dependable Locks, he said "it's not a simple lock," despite the ease he had it opened. But what he didn't know was that an hour earlier, 10 Connects had the lock inspected by professional locksmith Frank Torrens from Henry's Locksmith.
"It's just a standard, normal opening," said Torrens, before opening the door himself in under 60 seconds. "It's not a high-security lock, it's just a regular, standard residential lock."
The man from Dependable Locks collected our producer's $120 - more than double her $54 quote - and took off without saying much more to 10 Connects.
It's a story John Zajac with the Better Business Bureau has heard before.
"They're expecting to pay a certain price and they end up paying three times that price," Zajac said, citing more than 225 complaints from all over the country in 21 months since Dependable moved to Clearwater. "This is deceptive advertising and deceptive sales practices. The company's rating with us is 'F.' "
Complaints about Dependable have also reached several attorney generals' offices, as states such as Missouri and Illinois have filed suit. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has received upwards of 20 complaints to his office, but since locksmiths are unregulated in Florida, his office hasn't been able to take any action.
Local locksmiths with better reputations at the BBB tell 10 Connects that Dependable Locks makes up company names and fake addresses, then saturates the phonebook so when you call a locksmith in an emergency, there's a good chance your call will end up at their offices in Clearwater.
When 10 Connects went to the office, employees refused to acknowledge anything about a locksmith business. Owner David Peer asked us to leave the property, but after repeated requests, agreed to speak off-camera.
He said the multiple phone numbers and business names were for marketing purposes, but the multiple addresses were a mistake.
His lawyer also said many of the complaints were for other national locksmiths but were "hopelessly cross-linked" to Dependable Locks.
Tampa-based Ken Kupferman, the former president of the Associated Locksmiths of America, suggests finding a good locksmith now so that when you need one in an emergency, you won't be taken advantage of.
Follow 10 Connects reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky or Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky.
Noah Pransky, 10 Connects