The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has issued a warning against the fraudulent practices of businesses that pretend to be locksmiths. These businesses take advantage of consumers that are in emergency situations by charging too high prices, approaching consumers in an aggressive manner, doing a poor job, and by failing to offer clients any contact options. That is why ACM will inform consumers about how to find trustworthy locksmiths. And ACM will also take action against these fraudulent practices.
Some of ACM’s recent actions include: asking Google to remove online ads of untrustworthy businesses, putting an end to businesses that referred clients to untrustworthy locksmiths, and having websites blocked. With these actions, ACM wishes to prevent consumers from getting harmed, as well as to stop unfair competition with trustworthy locksmiths. ACM is still investigating several specific businesses. These investigations may result in fines or orders subject to periodic penalty payments.
Over the past few years, ACM has received numerous complaints from consumers that were harmed by untrustworthy locksmiths, which they had contacted for help in emergency situations. Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “Considering the seriousness of the problems, we are taking a comprehensive approach. It is important that consumers know that they need to be very careful when seeking the help of locksmiths if they have locked themselves out.”
What is the problem?
Consumers that have locked themselves out go online to find a locksmith that can open the door for them. Through online ads, it is easy for them to get in touch with businesses that pretend to be a locksmith, and that can do the job for a huge sum of money (up to 8,000 euros even). This is because the top search results and ads often come from these untrustworthy businesses. Their websites contain misleading information or lack important information about the businesses behind the ads, so that consumers are unable to go anywhere with their complaints. Consumers also do not receive any price estimates in advance. These untrustworthy businesses often involve rings of individuals and businesses that constantly change names, websites, and phone numbers, and that use professional methods of concealment. That is why these practices are so hard to root out.
One important aspect of ACM’s approach is consumer education through its consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer. On www.consuwijzer.nl (in Dutch), consumers can find tips on finding trustworthy businesses if they are in an emergency situation and need help from a locksmith, or from a trustworthy plumber, pest control company, or leakage detection company. Those untrustworthy businesses are also active in these sectors.
What actions is ACM taking?
ACM’s approach is aimed at preventing consumers in need from being referred, through the search results on their phones, to untrustworthy locksmiths. The results of ACM’s actions are:
- untrustworthy locksmiths are no longer able to use Google Ads, because, having consulted with ACM, Google has removed these ads, and does not allow any new ads from these businesses;
- ACM has ordered businesses that refer clients by phone or online to locksmiths (such businesses are called lead generators) to stop leading customers to untrustworthy locksmiths;
- following reports from ACM about the use of false information in registrations, the Foundation for Internet Domain Registration in the Netherlands (SIDN) has checked and deleted the domain registrations of websites of untrustworthy businesses;
- ACM has had phone numbers blocked of businesses that use them for fraudulent practices.
In this comprehensive approach, ACM worked together with the Dutch police, SIDN, the Centre for Crime Prevention and Safety (CVV), and consumer authorities in other countries. ACM is also in touch with the fraud teams of banks, and with the trade association for locksmiths.