Friend at work mentioned that, at his house, his wife said that a circuit breaker kept tripping. So she calls an electrician to find and fix the problem. He hears back from his wife that the electrician says that half the circuit breakers in the panel need to be replaced, and the estimate is $1800. Ten breakers. Not a new panel, just new breakers. Seems a little high... Anyway, my friend talks to the electrician and asks if he can fix the original problem, the breaker tripping. A little later, it turns out that some Xmas lights outside the house developed a short, and once unplugged, the problem went away.
So it didn't seem that he really needed new breakers. It's a little hard to give this electrician a benefit of a doubt (I'm assuming! that he was licensed...)...
A local, established, reputable firm grew to the point that the owner brought in a management team, and went off on a long vacation. The management team quickly filled the trucks with "technicians," and instituted a commission payment system - with seminars for the guys in how to 'up sell' a customer.
In no time at all, these guys were running up the customers' bills ... and, as in your example, often not addressing the original problems at all. Things reached a peak when I - completely unaware of the internal drama that was unfolding - called the owner after following behind one of the 'techs.' As in your example, the guy sold some madly marked-up breakers, and failed to find the readily accessible short. Oops.
My story has a happy ending ... the owner returned, sacked the 'new crew,' and recovered his good name.
Yet, your story is not unique. There ARE shady outfits out there whose entire business model is to do just what that "electrician" did. These are the guys who give 'flat rate' a bad name.
The guy should have done some troubleshooting, and found the problem ... and not just focused on the age of the equipment.
The proper protocol in this situation would be to locate the source of the issue causing the breaker to trip, charge for that service, then present to the customer (visually showing and documenting in writing) any further recommended service based on safety concerns and/or preventitive maintenance based on a projected assumption of imminent failure.
I will go out on a limb here and accuse this "electricain" of attempting to gouge this customer and make himself a little extra holiday cash at the expense of an unsuspecting innocent.
If it were my friend, I would recommend reporting this "person" to the AHJ. These idiots give us all a bad name and make our lives a lot more difficult when dealing with previously-scorned clients.
The kicker here is that, had the customer fallen for the "breaker replacement", the problem would have still existed.
Sorry, I was using a general term, AHJ, as Authority Having Jurisdiction. Should have been more specific - Better Business Bureau, Contractors Board, Consumer Affairs Dept., Etc. I'm not sure who would be the entity in your state/county/municipality that would be able to record, and make available to the public, a formal complaint in your area.
Making a formal complaint is a duty as well as an option. Imagine who this creep is scaring into giving him money... an old lady on a fixed income? Your next customer? This guy is not only a menace to the public, he's also really, really bad for our business.