The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has imposed fines on KeyService Nederland / Plumberservice, registered in the southern Dutch city of Helmond, as well as its executive. The company offered locksmith services online, where consumers that hired the company were given the impression that they would be doing business with a local locksmith. On its website, the company presented itself as more trustworthy than it actually was, and it seemed as if KeyService Nederland checked the quality of the locksmiths that it dispatched. Cost information was not provided in advance, but consumers were sometimes pressured afterwards to pay the hefty bills immediately. For using such aggressive and misleading commercial practices, ACM has imposed a fine of 200,000 euros on the company, and a fine of 50,000 euros on its executive.
Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh, Member of the Board of ACM, explains: “If you have locked yourself out of your home, you search for a trustworthy company that can help you. In these situations especially, consumers should be able to trust the services of a business such as a locksmith. This company, however, took advantage of that vulnerable position by misrepresenting themselves, sending hefty bills afterwards, and by putting pressure on consumers to pay those bills. That is why we have imposed fines on this company.”
What has been the problem?
Consumers that had locked themselves out of their homes found the company online. The company ranked high in online search results, because it had placed and paid for many ads. In ads that KeyService ran, it presented itself as a local locksmith. On its websites, it advertised that the locksmiths with which it did business all met certain quality criteria, whereas, in reality, they had not been assessed on such criteria. In addition, fake positive reviews were also listed on these websites. However, these misleading practices did create confidence among consumers that they were dealing with a trustworthy company. In addition, consumers that hired a locksmith through KeyService were not given a price estimate in advance. After the job was done, they were confronted with a hefty bill on the spot. If they complained about the amount they had to pay, they were sometimes pressured to pay immediately. The amounts could be as high as 2,200 euros for just a few minutes of work.
Aggressive and misleading practices
ACM considers the commercial practices of KeyService and of its executive as aggressive and misleading. Consumers that hired the company were under the impression that they would get a trustworthy, professional, local locksmith. In reality, KeyService dispatched random locksmiths from its network, whose plans were to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time. That is why ACM imposes a fine on the company as well as on the individual that exercised leadership over these practices.
ACM’s campaign against emergency services
These fines are part of ACM’s broad campaign against fraudulent practices of a number of locksmiths. Previous ACM studies revealed that consumers that are in an emergency situation often end up doing business with individuals or companies that deliver bad quality, charge far too much, and sometimes act aggressively.
Examples of actions that ACM has carried out:
- After consultations with ACM, Google has removed ads of untrustworthy locksmiths, and no longer allows new ads for these businesses,
- Following reports from ACM about the use of false information in the registration process, domain name registry SIDN checked and cancelled domain registrations of websites of untrustworthy businesses,
- ACM has had phone numbers blocked belonging to businesses that used these numbers for fraudulent practices,
- ACM has forced two online marketing companies to stop their misleading customer-acquisition practices for locksmiths and other emergency services.
In these actions, ACM works together with Dutch police and regulators in other countries. In addition, ACM is in close contact with fraud and security teams of major banks, and with the trade association of locksmiths.
Information for consumers
Consumers that wish to hire a locksmith or any other 24/7 service can visit ACM ConsuWijzer for tips (in Dutch) on what to look out for when searching a trustworthy provider. Consumers always have the opportunity to file a report with ACM ConsuWijzer (in Dutch).