Raleigh, N.C. — A Superior Court judge on Tuesday fined a bogus locksmith operation more than $1.2 million and issued a permanent injunction to bar the operation from working in North Carolina.
The judgment comes 16 months after a WRAL News hidden-camera investigation exposed the tactics used by the nationwide operation, from phony Internet ads designed to divert customers from legitimate businesses to out-of-state call centers promising low service fees to desperate people locked out of their homes.
Once the operation dispatches its crews posing as locksmiths, however, the price for the service quickly escalates, the WRAL News investigation showed.
Following the investigation, a number of victims of the scheme filed complaints with the Consumer Protection Division in the Attorney General's Office, prompting the state to sue 704 Locksmith Inc., NC Charlotte Locksmith Inc., Locksmith Service Inc. and two Charlotte residents believed to run the three companies.
Judge Robert Hobgood determined that the scheme violated the state's Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and he ordered Tamir Avraham, 704 Locksmith and Locksmith Services to pay $395,000 each in civil penalties and Anna Konevsky to pay $60,000 in civil penalties.
Under state law, any civil penalties collected in the case will go to support the public schools.
Hobgood also banned the operation, which used several front names in the past, from "all locksmith-related activities" in North Carolina, including using call centers, online services and subcontractors.
“Nobody likes to be locked out, but it’s even worse if the company you call for help rips you off,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement. “Businesses that break the law and take advantage of consumers in their time of need have no business operating in North Carolina."
Cooper has urged consumers to ask to see a North Carolina locksmith license, which is required by law, when using a locksmith. They also should ask for references, double-check the company's office address and watch out for locksmiths who arrive in unmarked vehicles or without uniforms, he said.