RACINE - Say you're locked out of your car. No extra keys, and no one close with a spare. So you pull out your smartphone, and look for a locksmith.
AT&T's Yellow Pages app for the iPhone brings up 64 listings. The first 30 have addresses in Racine, Caledonia or Sturtevant. One of them shares an address with a Mexican restaurant. Another with a gas station. And another with a coffee shop. They have different numbers, but when you dial, there's the same recording of a man with a phony-sounding Southern twang thanking you for calling the emergency mobile locksmith line.
This week, the Wisconsin Department of Justice won a default judgment against Prestige Business Solutions, a Hackensack, N.J. company that does business as USA Locksmith. It places locksmith ads, with local-sounding names and local phone numbers, but when people call, they are unknowingly bounced to a call center somewhere else, like New York or New Jersey.
"There's a lot of phony businesses out there," said Assistant Attorney General John Greene, who sued Prestige in Racine County Circuit Court. "The ad says Delavan Locksmith, and you think it might be nearby, and that you could be talking to someone nearby, but you're talking to someone in New Jersey or New York."
The company then calls someone on standby in the local area, who comes out to take care of the customer.
"It's hard to get a handle on exactly who (the locksmiths) are," Greene said. "Sometimes people are here on visas from other countries. They might show up in an old car with no markings on it and say, ‘Oh, you called for a locksmith and I'm here to fix your lock.'"
Greene said they have seen "an explosion" in this kind of advertising in the yellow pages and online.
"It's a practice which is definitely growing and we decided that we were going to try and push back against it," he said. "In our view, (it) is clearly deceptive advertising. It's not honest, it hurts the consumer, and it hurts the other legitimate businesses."
Prestige never responded to the suit or appeared in court, permitting Racine County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Barry to enter the default judgment. The judgment, issued Wednesday, prohibits the company from continuing to operate in this fashion.
It is no longer allowed to use fictitious business names or addresses in connection with local phone numbers or forward calls from Wisconsin consumers to an out-of-state call center. The company must also pay $59,930.60, which includes $9,643.10 for the cost of investigation and prosecution of the lawsuit.
Prestige was not able to be reached for comment; The Journal Times spent more than an hour on hold, waiting for someone at Prestige Business Solutions to answer the phone.