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ACM orders online advertisers to stop misleading customers of locksmiths

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) orders two online advertisers to stop misleading customers that are looking for locksmiths online. These advertisers commercially exploit a large number of websites that give the impression they are the websites of local, certified locksmiths. Through these websites, they redirect consumers to locksmiths that will carry out the job. On these websites, it looks as if consumers hire local, certified contractors carrying the logo of the Dutch police’s program for securing homes against burglaries (in Dutch: Politiekeurmerk Veilig Wonen). In reality though, not all of these locksmiths have been certified. Consumers thus do not know in advance whom they hire, what the costs are, and what level of quality they can expect. Moreover, they unwittingly run the risk of dealing with an untrustworthy person. ACM’s action against these two online advertisers is another step in a broad, chain-wide campaign against untrustworthy providers of emergency services.

Orders subject to periodic penalty payments

ACM orders the advertisers (also called ‘lead generators’) Leadle BV and Allfree BV immediately to stop misleading online customers that are looking for locksmiths or other emergency services such as plumbers for clogged drains. They will have to be clear about their roles as lead generators, which means that, through their websites, they redirect customers to a firm that accepts the job. And they need to be clear about how much it costs, and what conditions apply. If they fail to do so, they will have to pay periodic penalties of 3,700 euros and 8,900 per week, respectively, as long as the violation continues, up to a maximum of 37,000 euros and 89,000 euros. Since the orders subject to periodic penalty payments were announced, both Leadle BV and Allfree BV have already implemented positive changes to their websites. Leadle BV recently implemented a name change, and appears to have changed its commercial activities.

Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “Consumers that have locked themselves out of their homes or whose toilets are clogged will go online and look for someone that is trustworthy and who can solve their problem quickly. In practice however, it cannot always be guaranteed that that someone is a local business, and quality is not always checked either. With this intervention, we wish to ensure that this stops.”

What has been the problem?

Imagine living in city X or province Y, and you just locked yourself out of your own home. While searching online, you come across a website with the Dutch words for province Y and locksmith in its name. You probably think you will get in touch with a local locksmith. You also see the logo of the Dutch police’s program for securing homes against burglaries (in Dutch: Politiekeurmerk Veilig Wonen). You will think you will be referred to a trustworthy and certified locksmith in province Y. In reality, the website is just one of many domains owned by a lead generator. Leadle sells your data to the business that places a bid on your job, while Allfree redirects consumers to a locksmith with whom the company has a contract with at that point. This means that, in many situations, consumers do not know what business they get, what the costs are, and whether or not they are certified. You have no influence over this entire process, and you do not have a choice either.

ACM’s campaign against emergency services

Previous ACM studies revealed that consumers that are in an emergency situation go online to find a locksmith, plumber or pest control company. They often end up doing business with untrustworthy individuals or companies that deliver bad quality, charge far too much, and sometimes act aggressively.

With a broad campaign involving various organizations, ACM wishes to prevent consumers that are looking for emergency service providers from ending up doing business with companies that take advantage of these consumers’ situations.

Examples of actions that ACM has carried out:

  • Untrustworthy locksmiths are no longer able to use Google Ads, because Google, after consultating with ACM among other reasons, has removed these ads, 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,
  • Investigations into specific businesses.

In these actions, ACM works together with Dutch police, SIDN, the Centre for Crime Prevention and Safety (CCV), 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 locksmith. Consumers always have the opportunity to file a report with ACM ConsuWijzer (in Dutch).

See also