The dodgy directors of London locksmith companies who ripped off customers and used photos of strangers from social media alongside fake customer reviews have been landed with fines, costs and compensation totalling more than £16,500.
Dodgy London Locksmith companies, which had no physical base but used a “virtual office” forwarding address in City Road, Islington, set up multiple websites claiming to be local to many parts of England.
The websites featured a raft of fictitious five-star reviews from non-existent customers, full of praise for rescuing them from being locked out of their flat or helping them get back into their car.
The firms lured in customers with claims that prices for its services started from just £59, but went on to charge as much as £820. Islington Trading Standards, who investigated and brought the prosecution, consulted an expert locksmith who judged that, in one case, the firm had charged more than four times the going rate for the work they did.
Cllr Andy Hull, Islington Council’s executive member for finance, performance and community safety, said: “These rogue traders not only abused the trust of unsuspecting customers by charging way over the odds for their work, but cynically tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the world with fake five-star reviews from customers who never existed.
“Congratulations to our determined Trading Standards team, who work so hard to build strong and successful legal cases. We will continue to tackle such blatant dishonesty, which threatens to undermine public trust in locksmiths and many other honest trades, wherever we can.
“And while virtual offices are used by many legitimate businesses, potential customers should always exercise caution when searching online for services, cross-referencing them with personal recommendations where possible.”
All of the directors admitted responsibility, on behalf of the company, for the use of photos of people taken from the internet without their consent – including one from a Twitter user based in America and another from an American newspaper website – and attaching them to the glowing fake customer reviews on the firm’s websites. The same images were used numerous times on the different sites, each time under a different name and review.
The firm’s Directors, admitted four sample counts of overcharging customers. One victim paid £744 for a job that should have cost around £150, while another was charged £820 for a job worth no more than £300. The final amount they would be charged was not discussed when the unsuspecting victims made the bookings.
The jobs were carried out between August and December last year in Luton, Hertfordshire, Oldham and Dartford.
Notes to editor
The directors prosecuted.
The “virtual office” was Kemp House, 152-160 City Road, London, EC1V. The same virtual office can be used by literally thousands of companies as a registered address, with no physical presence required there.
At Highbury Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, October 10, under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, one Director pleaded guilty to one count of misleading actions by creating fake customer reviews of their service. He was fined £333 plus a victim surcharge of £33.
Under the same legislation, another director pleaded guilty to four counts of misleading actions in regard to overcharging for work. He was fined £200 per offence plus an £80 victim surcharge.
Under the same legislation, a representative of another locksmith company pleaded guilty to five counts of misleading actions (four counts relating to overcharging, one count relating to creating fake customer reviews) and was fined £1,332 on each count.
In addition, the defendants were ordered to pay compensation to the four victims of £2,032.80 and Islington Council’s legal costs of £6,734.20.
These firms are still operating, but records indicate they have moved location and use other company names.
No images are available.