A call for locksmith services in southeastern Wisconsin to any of 113 phone numbers actually went to New York, from where Locksmiths Inc. dispatched a contracted worker to handle the call, a disguise Wisconsin authorities unmasked in a consumer lawsuit filed this week in Ozaukee County.
Taking its first step in response to mounting complaints about locksmiths who use phony addresses and columns of phone numbers and different names, the Department of Justice accused Locksmiths Inc. and its owner, Gabriel Munteoreanu, of operating under 113 fraudulent listings in 2009. Advertising local numbers and using false business addresses violate state consumer laws against false, deceptive and misleading practices, the lawsuit said.
The single company in New York gave the illusion of being many local companies by advertising in telephone directories and Internet listings, a practice that has come under scrutiny of consumer investigators across the country.
Complaints filed with the state's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection this year include numerous examples of lockout victims protesting the company's use of a phony address, overcharging for services, inept skills and dirty tricks against competitors.
According to the complaint, Locksmiths Inc. splits the payments made by customers to contracted locksmiths dispatched by Locksmiths Inc.
The lawsuit calls for the company to stop using state phone numbers and false addresses in its marketing, and to pay unspecified restitution, fines and cost of investigation and prosecution.
Attempts to contact Locksmiths Inc. were unsuccessful.
A similar business marketing plan is used by Madison Locksmiths, a company set up in Madison in 2008.
The company, which is not a part of the current lawsuit, has generated several complaints from consumers as well as competing established locksmiths. A company spokesman, Joshua Burlin, acknowledged the company's business plan relied on multiple identities, numbers and addresses in its Madison listings. In reality, the company has a two-office suite on Madison's West Side off Odana Road. A call to any one of the businesses was routed to Burlin's office.
Someone answering a forwarded telephone inquiry at Madison Locksmiths Friday did not want to talk with a reporter.
In a news release, Department of Justice officials said "most consumers would not hire Locksmiths Inc. if they knew that it was not located at the address or phone number listed in the business directory used by the consumer to locate a locksmith."
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said that "consumers have a right to accurate information about businesses advertising in this state."