Concern rising over phony security alarm sales

home salesHome security systems are supposed to protect you from criminals, but rogue alarm companies and dishonest sales people have figured out ways to rip off people who already have a system or who want to buy one.

“Complaints about home alarm sales are now an area of particular concern,” according to the 2017 Consumer Complaint Survey Report released in July. This annual report from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is based on surveys of state and local consumer protection agencies.

The problems reported by disgruntled homeowners ranged from misleading sales claims and scare tactics to outright fraud.

“We’re concerned about these alarm sales abuses because it’s very easy to rope people into these deals,” said Susan Grant, CFA director of consumer protection and privacy. “Many of the consumers involved are elderly or disabled and don’t really understand what’s going on.”

DECEPTION 1: SCARE TACTICS

Fear sells security alarms, so scammers and unscrupulous alarm companies often use alarming crime statistics — that may not be true — as part of their sales pitch. Their mailers are designed to mislead or confuse, often made to look like they’re from your mortgage lender or local government agencies.

Hundreds of new homebuyers in and around Cleveland received a “Community Awareness Bulletin” last year that appeared to be from Cuyahoga County. The bogus letter, complete with the official county logo, warned about home break-ins and home invasions in the area because of the “opioid crisis” and offered a “free home security package.”

The letter was not from the county; it was from an alarm company that was trying to sign-up new customers.

DECEPTION 2: LIES, LIES AND MORE LIES

Don’t think you’re safe, just because you already have an alarm system.

Door-to-door con artists will try to convince you that they represent (or are working with) your current alarm company to “upgrade” your system. Sometimes, they claim your monitoring service has gone out of business and they have acquired their customers.

Fall for the pitch, and you’ll wind up being double-billed — by your “old” alarm company and the “new” one.

But how do the fraudsters know which alarm company you have? They look for the alarm company sign in your yard or the sticker in your window.

DECEPTION 3: JUST SIGN HERE

It’s not uncommon for door-to-door salespeople to show the customer an electronic contract on their computer and have them agree to it by providing a digital signature. This can result in serious problems.

You can’t properly review a contact on the small screen of a hand-held device. Get a physical copy of that contract, so you can read it and make sure it’s correct.

CONSUMER CONFUSION: AUTOMATIC RENEWAL

If you buy a security alarm system, you may be required to sign up for monthly monitoring for a year or more. Typically, there’s a penalty for early cancellation.

Many alarm contracts have an “auto-renewal” clause that can trap you into a long-term monitoring commitment without your follow-up consent. If you don’t decline to renew at the end of the term, often in writing weeks before the contract period ends, that agreement is automatically renewed for another term.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Door-to-door sales are always risky because the salesperson is in your home. Don’t let anyone rush you or pressure you into buying something you don’t want. High-pressure sales tactics often indicate a scam. If you feel pressured, there’s no need to be polite — tell the person to leave. Your current alarm company will never show up unannounced to “upgrade” your equipment or switch service.

Source: NBC News