If you need a locksmith, be warned: a locksmith company in Auckland who has been exposed before, are back in action doing poor work on people's properties, and demanding outrageous payments for it.
One of the latest disappointed customers was Newshub entertainment editor Daniel Rutledge. He needed work done to some doors of his home, did a Google search and chose one of the top results. He thought as it was at the top of the results, it would be a reliable company.
Two men turned up late, in an unmarked vehicle, without identification and refused to give a quote.
After they worked through the whole day, coming and going for parts, Rutledge says he was left with a big hole in the front door, stuffed with cotton wool, and a lot of scratches and drill holes where they had been hacking at the lock.
Problems with invoice
"I was pretty unhappy with that and wondered when they were coming back, then that night I got an invoice from them and it was for $1,437, which seemed like an outlandishly large fee," Rutledge says.
"I started looking through the invoice and it had some very unusual things, such as charging for 'installation' as well as 'labour', which seems like it should be the same thing."
Rubbish from the parts had been left behind and looking one up, it's quickly found at Bunnings for $8.99. None of the parts on the invoice cost less than $89, and there were more parts on the invoice than what was actually used.
The next day, Rutledge went to legitimate Auckland locksmiths LockSmart and told them what had happened.
"They said: 'Let me guess, is it Local Locksmith 24/7?'"
Local Locksmith 24/7 was indeed the company that had worked on Rutledge's house. They are not the company Local Locksmiths Ltd, which is registered with Master Locksmiths Association Australasia, and is highly reviewed online.
LockSmart director Nicola Pirie says the group has been around for a while, and they get to the top of Google results by paying for Adwords - where a company pays for high Google results rankings.
"We noticed them when they started doing their Google Adwords. They came up and they used to be 'Locksmiths Auckland', and Fair Go did the article about a few weeks ago."
Once the TV show ran the story, the group disappeared for a while, Ms Pirie says.
"They went quiet for about a month, and now they're back, using the new name of Local Locksmith 24/7," she alleges.
After a locksmith from LockSmart worked on Rutledge's property, it became clear just how poor Local Locksmith 24/7's workmanship had been, with Ms Pirie calling it "embarrassing".
They're using a name very similar to another company, Local Locksmiths Limited, she says, and the group's boss Rutledge dealt with is using the same first name as that company's boss.
"Tony is actually the owner of Local Locksmiths Ltd. It's really unfortunate for him because he's really lovely," Ms Pirie says.
Rutledge searched the details provided on the invoice he was given. Results on companiesoffice.govt.nz led to a man named Noam Cohen who is a director of 'ABN Inc' and 'Meridian Locksmith Limited'.
At the time of publishing, the 'Local Locksmith 24/7' website appears to have been taken down, with 24meridianlocksmith.com up in its place.
When Newshub called the number for Tony, the man who answered confirmed his real name was Noam Cohen, explaining that 'Tony' is more easily understood for English language speakers. He did not wish to comment about the work that had been done.
LockSmart is seeing the damage from the group up to several times a day now around Auckland, Ms Pirie says.
Threatening phone calls
As well as damaging his property, 'Local Locksmith 24/7' staff have been threatening, Rutledge says.
"They started harassing me on the phone about paying the invoice, on the night of the work being done - just hours later, calling and wanting my credit card details. That again raised my concern," he says.
"During one of the conversations a few days later, the guy who said his name was Tony threatened to 'sue me' or send guys back around to 'take the locks', which I took as being a threat of a burglary. That's how it felt."
The pricing on the invoice is also "wildly out of whack with industry standards," he says.
After bartering with the person who called himself Tony, Local Locksmith 24/7 agreed that they'd done a terrible job and were charging too much, says Rutledge. 'Tony' still attempted to get some money from him, but eventually agreed to not charging anything.
"What this says to me is that they try this on with people, they go to people's houses, they don't know what they're doing, they damage the house, put in sh*tty gear then charge them thousands of dollars when it should be hundreds," Rutledge says.
"And maybe if they do six of these jobs a week and two come in, they pay their expenses."
Are they breaking the law?
The Commerce Commission says New Zealand's Fair Trading Act covers:
- all aspects of the promotion and sale of goods and services;
- anything said about a product or service, either verbally or in writing
The Consumer Guarantees Act also applies when you have purchased a good or service normally bought for personal use.
It guarantees that goods or services should:
- be of acceptable quality;
- be fit for their purpose
Kiwis have rights over pricing under the Consumer Guarantees Act:
- Price claims must be clear and accurate - including for sales, pricing comparisons and markdowns;
- GST is included in the price, or if it is not included, it must be made clear.
Ms Pirie says she has contacted the IRD about the group's incorrect invoices, which often have no GST number or charge on them.
Tony Wallace, the owner of legitimate company Local Locksmiths Limited, says he has been getting calls from people complaining about work done by 'Local Locksmiths 24/7'.
Mr Wallace also remembers a call he received about six weeks ago, asking his name and the prices he charges. He suspects the caller was Cohen.
He says the research he and his wife have done shows the scammers could also be operating in Melbourne.
It will be a hot topic of discussion at the upcoming Master Locksmiths Association of Australasia (MLAA) conference, where they'll talk about solutions for the industry, he says.
How to choose a legitimate locksmith
Ms Pirie says there are some clear signs to look for when choosing a locksmith.
"We have a private security licence for the company and all our guys individually have a certificate of approval. So if a customer wanted to see their ID, they could.
"Plus our guys turn up in a marked vehicle, a sign-written van, and wear a uniform."
- When searching for a locksmith online, check reviews
- See if the company is a member of MLAA
- Look up companies on nocowboys.co.nz
- Always get a quote
- Look for signs - mobile locksmiths should have all parts and equipment in their vehicle, so should not be leaving the property for parts
"If you're concerned, check credentials. Check ID. Make sure they're filling out an invoice for you," Ms Pirie says.
And never, ever trust a company just because it has paid for Google Adwords.