Perhaps playing on consumers' security fears, a handful of operators, posing as locksmith companies, are ripping off consumers coast to coast.

The companies, all employing similar tactics, are significantly overcharging consumers, charging consumers for unnecessary services, using intimidation tactics, and failing to give refunds or respond to consumer complaints, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Ironically, these companies operate under names like Dependable Locksmith but in reality they exploit the vulnerable situation of consumers who are locked out of their house or car, said Steve Cox spokesperson for the BBB System. Weve found that some locksmiths have made taking advantage of consumers misfortune part of their business model.

Complaints about locksmith services to the 114 BBBs serving the U.S. increased almost 75 percent from 2005 to 2006, and have continued to come in steadily during the first half of this year.

The BBB has singled out Dependable Locksmith which operates under more than a dozen different names for harsh criticism, calling it particularly disreputable.

The group says the company poses as a local locksmith in cities across the country and advertises in the yellow pages using local phone numbers and fake local addresses. A consumer might think theyre dealing with a local locksmith but their phone call is actually connected to a call center located in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Consumers are quoted a reasonable price over the phone but when the locksmith arrives typically in an unmarked vehicle he demands significantly more money than originally quoted, often only accepting cash.

A complaint from Cleveland, OH, where Dependable Locksmith was operating under the name Superb Solutions, alleges the company quoted fees of $39 and $84 for separate jobs, but the bill ended up at $471, which included add-on fees such as a $65 breaking in fee and a $58 fee to uninstall old locks.

Another complainant reported that the locksmith sent to let her into her car demanded she pay twice the price quoted over the phone. The locksmith offered to drive her to an ATM to get cash. Feeling unsafe the victim refused.

The victim said she was ultimately forced to write a check made out personally to the locksmith, claiming he would not let her into her car until she did so. She cancelled payment on the check the next morning, but eventually filed a police report after the locksmith harassed her with continuous phone calls about payment.

The BBB also reports complaints from victims who say they were charged for unnecessary services. For example, complainants suspect locksmiths sent over by Dependable Locksmiths of pretending they couldnt simply pick the lock so that they could charge more and install all new locks in homes.

Some of Dependable Locksmiths aliases include, Superb Solutions, Locksmith 24 Hour, Inc., USA Total Security, Priceline Locksmith, and S.O.S. Locksmith, according to the BBB.

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