One consumer rip-off that shows no sign of abating is the annual invasion of door-to-door salespeople who use dubious and intrusive tactics to sell burglar-alarm systems to unwary homeowners, a topic we covered in "Scam Alert: Don't Get Ripped Off by an Alarm Company."
Jane Driggs, president of the Better Business Bureau of Utah, stops short of advising you not to buy an alarm system from door-to-door salespeople, but says, "You just have to make sure that you verify everything the company says and do your comparison shopping as if somebody hadn't come to the door." Read the BBB's "Don’t Fall for the Deceptive Pitch of a Door-to-Door Alarm Salesman."
Law-enforcement and consumer-protection officials warn you to be wary of an alarm salesperson who:
• Attempts to alarm you by citing rashes of burglaries in their neighborhoods.
• Claims to represent or wear clothing with logos from major alarm manufacturers like GE and Honeywell. These firms don't sell directly to consumers and don't allow their logos to be used by door-to-door salespeople.
• Tries to gain entrance into your home. "I actually had a salesperson reach inside the door to show me where his system would go and ask if he could come in," says Driggs. "I have a big dog, so I wasn't worried about it, but I could see a lot of people might have let him gain admittance that way."
• Offers a free system. Experts say "free" systems usually come with higher monthly service fees. Also be sure that the contract clearly indicates what the monthly service fee will be. "If they say your charges are going to be $44 a month for a one-year term, verify that that's what the contract says—don't sign it if it isn't clearly stated," says Driggs.
"Alarm companies generally don't make money on the equipment, but on he monthly services. You should focus on the quality of the service and the length of the contract—many jurisdictions limit the length and number of automatic renewals," says Ron Walters, the Security Industry Alarm Coalition's director of field operations. Make sure the contract stipulates the length of the agreement and any associated early-termination fees.
• Says the company is ready to install your system right away. Experts say legitimate alarm companies don't mind taking the time to talk to consumers to get a comprehensive view of their security needs.
• Claims your current alarm company is defunct. A scam recently spotted by our colleagues at The Consumerist involves Orem, Utah-based Pinnacle Security. The company's reps have been implying to customers of CastleRock Security in Wichita, Kansas, that CastleRock has gone out of business, a claim CastleRock disputes. Another variation on this theme is a salesperson's claim that your current equipment needs updating. Read more about this story on the KWCH Web site.
Industry experts stress that you should deal only with well-established companies. Find out which local or state agency has jurisdiction over alarm companies and check the records of any company you're considering using. Also see whether your homeowner's-insurance company offers a discount for using certain alarm companies.—Gian Trotta