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The Locksmith Police
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Almost 2 years ago, around the time of my birthday (12/2008) I was reading on a locksmith only web site, the post of well respected locksmith in the Baltimore MD area who was going off on the bleep-bleep scammers. It seems that they had isolated the listing about his company on the Google Maps website, gained "EDIT" access, and replaced all of his telephone numbers with various toll-free numbers that would drive calls resulting from consumers finding his company's listing to the call center of the SCAMMERS.
At that point I was thinking to myself "Yeah, right, can't happen to me...." and so just for the hell of it, I went to the Google maps website, did a search for MY company and low and behold, my phone number was gone, a toll-free number was there, and there seemed to be no way for me to quickly reverse the process.
I made phone calls to Google (try to find their phone number why doncha?) only to have a brick wall thrown up in my face.
I drafted a letter to Google's general counsel and sent it to their FAX number repeatedly. I have NEVER received any response from google about this very serious matter which is consistent with business identity theft.
I then started poking around in Google, and other places, looking at listings for "locksmiths" in Phoenix (where I have my business).
I was stunned when I discovered that for a "niche" trade such as Locksmith there were literally thousands and thousands of listings for the Phoenix area. Having come to know many of the local "legitimate" locksmiths in the area and having been in the industry for some 20 years, I just knew that an area of this size would have (including one-man mobile operations) around 100, possibly up to 200 "legitimate" companies, but that would be the most.
Three or four years previous to that, a buddy of mine W started circulating information, in the form of a photocopy information compiled from a yellow pages directory that showed listings of locksmith companies names, addresses, and phone numbers. The problem was that while the business addresses were in fact the addresses of legitimate locksmith businesses, the phone numbers associated with those addresses didn't belong to the legitimate businesses that lived at those addresses!
We all got extremely angry and DEX and other yellow page book publishers but despite all of our complaining DEX and its ilk were stuck on "We're not responsible because we just get the listings from the telephone companies and print them." and "We don't have the manpower or the money to verify all of our listings - and after all, we're not --- The Locksmith Police ---"
Well at the time, several years ago, I was quite busy.... my phone was ringing all the time, and I had to run around town servicing customers to generate the revenue to stay in business. I didn't really have time to mount a battle campaign or war against the meanies at the yellow page company(ies)
Fast forward to 12/2008 - suffering from declining revenue - I "sold" my shop to W (who never has paid me for it), and downsized into being a "mobile only" business, mostly a "one man show." I found that I was having more and more "leisure" time to poke around the internet and such because my phone was ringing less and less so having literally "nothing better to do" I spent hundreds of hours researching these thousands of locksmith listings popping up on the internet.
I almost immediately stumbled on one company - ATLAS. I started from their website and worked my way out and ultimately connected some 250 different telephone numbers and 300 different addresses to them. It hit me like a ton of bricks - if this one company has 250 telephone numbers being advertised all over the place and I have 2 or 3 numbers this other company is going to get - at a minimum - ONE HUNDRED TIMES the number of calls that I would get. No wonder I don't have any work to go do. Then I started looking at all of these addresses that were being published with these phone numbers.
SURPRISE! They are all PHONY ADDRESSES! What do I mean by "Phony" you might ask? Well I started to do field investigations at these addresses. It seems that ATLAS (and some of the other scammer companies) are very fond of publishing as their "business address" addresses that belong to Subway Sandwich shops, UPS stores, apartment buildings, hotels, home depot stores, parking lots, vacant lots, Laundromats, and on and on ad. infinitium. Of the hundreds of addresses that I have personally visited I have located exactly 1 address where they seem to have a small hole in the wall office in Scottsdale. Of the extensive research I've done ONE of the other addresses seems to be the address of a condo of one of the principals. Other than those two specific addresses, I found ZERO locksmith shops.
Between 12/2008 and around June, 2009 my extensive research uncovered at least 5 different companies of Scammers operating in the Maricopa County market. I amassed my data and started writing a civil lawsuit based primarily on ARS §44-1221. So far the suit that I have written is 50+ pages in length naming many defendants including several telephone companies. I didn't want to "go it alone" and with the annual convention of the Associated Locksmiths of America coming up shortly (in August, 2009) I decided to make a presentation at the membership meeting where I would present my case to the membership of ALOA for their consideration. Ultimately I was invited to the meeting of the ALOA board of directors. I provided the ALOA board with the following concepts:
"If there are 10 of these scammer
companies operating nationwide, asking each individual state attorney general to
go after each company would result in some 500 actions all to be tried
separately. The State Attorney's General are not the locksmith police and we
NEED TO BE the locksmith police. Further, the main root cause of the ultimate
infestation of the scammers and their ultimate saturation of all of the
telephone directories and internet search engine rest in the telephone company
Local Exchange Carriers (LECs) and Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs).
In my opinion, by virtue of their licensed status as "PUBLIC
UTILITIES" each of these LECs and CLECs have a fiduciary duty to the public
to ensure that each business name and address that they permit to be listed in
their (the LECs and CLECs) internal directory databases be factually accurate
and verifiable. Since the LECs and CLECs are performing no verification
whatsoever they are directly responsible for the proliferation of the phony
business names and addresses saturating the multitude of telephone directories
and internet search engines that they distribute their databases to. It is our
responsibility to file ONE lawsuit naming all of the identifiable scammer
companies and all of the LECs and CLECs and get ONE judge to issue ONE
injunction prohibiting all of these activities nationwide in one fell swoop.
I also proposed that ALOA assess every member a $100 fee to cover the costs of the action calculating that the 10,000 members would generate $1,000,000.00, not an unsubstantial legal fund. I don't think any of the members would mind, I know I wouldn't.
It was literally months later that I received the response of Executive Director David M. Lowell, CAE,CML,CMST: "...it is the position of the ALOA Board not to pursue a lawsuit at this time against various locksmith companies, Google and various telephone companies." (I find it somewhere between curious and infuriating that Mr. Lovell / ALOA elevates the status of the scammers and almost legitimizes them by referring to them as "locksmith companies")
======================== SINCE THEN ===========================
1. My buddy W has
moved himself and his children in with his parents - his house was foreclosed
2. Another locksmith buddy "J" has moved himself, his wife and kids in with his in-laws because his house was foreclosed on.
3. Many other locksmiths both locally and around the nation have found their previously acceptable lives decimated because of lack of income
All of this during a time when 2 owners and one worker-bee of Dependable have been arrested and are being prosecuted by the POSTAL INSPECTORS of all law-enforcement entities, for "Structuring money order purchases to avoid reporting requirements" and "money laundering" of all of the money that they are accumulating from their nationwide SCAMMER operations.
This past week - the straw that broke this camel's back and caused me to take a couple days to author this website and put me right back on the warpath of the scammers....
4. In order to temporarily stop the 4/23/2010 foreclosure sale of MY house, on 4/20/2010 I FILED BANKRUPTCY.
=========================== NOW ==============================
There is absolutely nothing holding me back from expending whatever time is necessary to finish my existing research, collate my extensive data into exhibits, and present my case for filing at the courthouse and ask the judge to issue a pile of injunctions to shut down these ongoing criminal ventures NOW!
Scammers - it is your time to be afraid!
PHONE COMPANY VILLANS!
This action will prominently feature the criminal scammer locksmith wannabees, for sure, however, on a more serious note while they're the actual criminals, ultimately the major HUGE VILLAN here are the Local Exchange Carrier (LEC) and Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC) telephone companies.
Specifically they are QWEST,
ELECTRIC LIGHTWAVE, LLC, INTEGRA TELECOM HOLDINGS, INC., TW
TELECOM HOLDINGS, INC., TW TELECOM OF
Each of these (and now I'm told of more) LEC and CLEC telephone companies are in the business of providing telephone services and ultimately contract with the criminal scammer companies to provide them with their hundreds to thousands of telephone numbers, provide the criminal scammer companies the opportunity to furnish them with lists of company names and (ultimately PHONY ) addresses to put into their internal directory databases.
It is the LECs and CLECs that provide all the phone book publishers such as DEX and IDEARC with the underlying listings of the SCAMMERS.
All this time the locksmiths have been very angry at, and fighting a futile battle with these publishers when in reality its the LECs and CLECs spoon feeding them the SCAMMERS data so that their books can be saturated with the phony listings.