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Reoffending rogue finally under lock and key...

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Mariam, web team | 12:03 UK time, Thursday, 23 September 2010

Locksmith, Mark Makowski is well known to us on Rogue Traders. He's one of the very first rogues we ever featured - and one of our most prolific offenders.

Mark Makowski - rogue locksmith

Back in 2002, we'd started receiving complaints about a number of companies Makowski was running. So, we rigged some houses with secret cameras and locked ourselves out...

We told Makowski's men we'd left our keys inside. A proper locksmith would have just let us in with a little skill, no fuss, no mess and no need to replace locks. But when Makowski or his men worked on our doors, they used power drills to break in, destroying the locks in the process. This novel technique left customers with no choice but to let them replace locks at extortionate prices. It was the key to Makowski's operation, and he didn't care who he ripped off.

Makowski himself came out to let our elderly lady stooge in. He'd quoted her just over £50. However, the final bill was 10 times more - a whopping £470.70.

A year later, in 2003, we were still getting complaints and cheeky Mr Makowski was now advertising himself as 'as seen on TV'. So, we went after him again and exposed yet more unnecessary drilling.

Makowski, though, just wouldn't stop. Four days after his appearance on Rogue Traders, he changed the name of the company to Phoenix Locksmiths. Even after Trading Standards watched our evidence and had managed to successfully prosecute, Mark Makowski still wouldn't stop ripping off customers.

Fast forward to 2005 and yet another Makowski appearance - on Watchdog. This time he'd taken over £800 from an elderly, blind pensioner.

Despite all this attention the complaints just kept on coming, so we had another go in 2006. We confronted Makowski, but he showed no sign of any remorse, even boasting about the money he was making.

In 2007, Makowski was going by the name Pronto Locks. He was still operating from his base in Hertfordshire but posing as a local businessman in telephone directories across the South East.

One of Pronto's victims was 73 year old Lance Tuckett. After returning from a holiday and finding he'd lost his keys, Lance called directory enquiries and they gave him the number for Pronto Locks. Makowski originally quoted Lance £250. But once he'd arrived and drilled Lance's locks, that price quickly spiralled upwards. To drill out and replace two locks, Makowski charged Lance a staggering £1,160. The locks he'd fitted were actually worth just £48 and were of such poor quality that they would invalidate Lance's house insurance.

Unknown to Makowski, the authorities were onto him. Trading Standards and Scambusters (the regional fraud unit) had joined forces. They wanted to use new legislation - The Fraud Act - to try and finally stop Makowski. To do that, they needed to catch him red-handed to prove his behaviour was a pattern designed to defraud people. So, in 2008, they set up their own secret filming.

In one of their 'stings', a Trading Standards officer posed as a householder who'd locked herself out. Master locksmith Ron Cliff had checked over the locks and proved they could be easily accessed using proper locksmith techniques and without any damage. However, Makowski, who'd originally quoted £110 for the job, drilled through the locks unnecessarily and charged a total of £460, including nearly £270 for a lock worth just £36.

This, together with all the complaints they'd received, meant Trading Standards now had the crucial evidence they needed to prove Makowski's behaviour was a well-established pattern. A few months after their secret filming, the authorities could finally act.

The police went to Makowski's house with a warrant for his arrest. Makowski failed to answer his door, so the police, worried he'd destroy evidence, broke in Makowski-style. They were looking for evidence that would expose Makowski's operation from the inside and show just how much money he'd scammed out of people.

They found what they were looking for - large sums of cash, invoices, stacks of the cheap locks he'd been selling at inflated prices, and invoices for unusually large number of high speed drill bits. They also found a list of fake addresses Makowski had used to advertise in local directories across the South East. This was how he had pulled people in from such a wide area and how he made his customers believe he was based just round the corner.

The police also found portable card readers - Makowski's method for taking the really big money on the doorstep. The bank had banned him from using these machines, but the authorities found he'd used false details to obtain new ones. Between 2007 and 2008, he took £350,000 using these machines alone.

Signs of the wealth Makowski had amassed from his lies and locks was also found. His house was completely mortgage free, and in the garage were a Ferrari and a Range Rover - both sporting personalised number plates.

In July 2010 - a full eight years since we first featured him on Rogue Traders - Makowski appeared at the Old Bailey, charged with 15 counts of fraud. And on 31st August, he was sentenced to 4 years in prison.

As well as jailing Makowski, the judge also banned him from being a director of any company for five years after his release. And that's not the end of Makowski's troubles. The money, house, and cars are now all coming under the spotlight as part of an ongoing investigation into his finances.

Want to know the key to finding a good locksmith?

The Master Locksmiths Association has a database of vetted and approved locksmith companies.

You can click here to find an MLA approved locksmith near you.

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