Nationwide 'Locksmith Swindle,' Says Better Business Bureau

"They're definitely one of the larger offenders as far as phony locksmiths go," said Alison Preszler at the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Locksmith Shalom Newman said until mid-2006 he worked for a company the Better Business Bureau linked to Dependable and had a falling out with management when he objected to its business practices.

"I'm making money off of other [people's] misery, and it's against everything I believe," Newman said. "They just told me to charge as much as I can — to start with a very high number to pressure the customer to pay that and to go lower if I have to."

Two companies, which the Better Business Bureau said were aliases used by Dependable, settled consumer protection lawsuits with the Illinois attorney general in January.

"They would quote people a much lower rate than they ultimately charged them. A lot of the charges were fraudulent," said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The companies settled without admitting liability.

One of the companies was called Priceline. It's the same company whose locksmith reportedly victimized Miller. Court papers list the president of Priceline as Gillad Gill. The Better Business Bureau lists Gill as the owner of Dependable.

When ABC News reached Gill on his cell phone in Israel, he told us he no longer is in the business. And when ABC News asked him how much he made in the business, he said, "Well, you're surely not welcome to know that kind of information. But I wish I would have made some money."

Dependable's Response

In a statement, an attorney who represents Dependable told ABC News, Dependable is a separate company with no connections to the operation Gill ran. He added, Dependable tries to run a clean business, with written estimates, written approvals and no fictitious addresses.

Dependable is moving its main call center to Florida, and its attorney said the company has set up a special consumer complaint department there. Still, the Better Business Bureau blasted Dependable's "unsatisfactory" business record at the close of 2007. The Better Business Bureau said Dependable has 51 pending complaints and 87 others to which the company never responded.

"We believe that the number of complaints we've received are just a small sliver of the larger problem," Preszler said.

How to Tell Whether You're Dealing With a Scammer

There are several ways to protect yourself and your money from dishonest locksmiths.

Warning signs include:

They answer the phone by just saying locksmith.
They won't tell you their exact address.
They're evasive when you ask questions.

You can protect yourself by finding a professional locksmith near you before you ever need one. Program the number into your phone. Also, get a written estimate before the locksmith does any work.

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