When you look at security systems to protect your home, the last thing you want to worry about is an unscrupulous security company raiding your pocketbook. For every good company, there are companies that use home security as a means of stealing your money. Below are some tips for recognizing a home security scam, as well as ways that you can protect yourself when buying a home security system.
Recognizing a Scam
Many scams are perpetrated by door-to-door salesmen who use a variety of means to get you to sign up for their service, such as:
- Making a limited-time offer offering free equipment. However, that “free” equipment usually comes with strings attached, such as an expensive long-term contract.
- Pressuring their way into your home and then refusing to leave until they make a sale.
- Using scare tactics citing the crime rates in the neighborhood, to play on your insecurities. For example, if you are a single parent they could talk extensively about daytime burglaries and need to protect your kids when they are home alone during the day.
- They may also target people who already have home security signs in their yards, pretending to be from the existing company and offering to replace or upgrade the service.
- They could also claim that the current security company has gone out of business and that they have taken over the account and require you to buy all new equipment and sign a new contract.
The first thing you should realize is that you are under no obligation to talk to a salesman when he comes to your door, or let him into your home. In fact, the best way to prevent any door-to-door salesman from refusing to leave is to deal with him outside your home. If he does make his way in, you are within your rights to ask him to leave, and to call the police if he refuses.
Additionally, even if the deal sounds interesting, you do not need to act immediately. If the deal is legit, you should be able to take time to think about it, and do your homework before making a decision. You should also get the salesman’s card, or take down his information including:
- His name and/or the contractor’s name;
- The company’s or contractor’s license number, the state that issued the license, and the name under which the license is filed;
- The actual street address for the company (not a PO Box); and,
- The telephone number for the company.
If he is not willing to give you any of that information, stop the conversation and walk away.
Choosing a System
If you are not familiar with what’s available in your area, check with your friends and neighbors to see what brands of security systems they use. They can tell you whether or not they are satisfied with their providers, the cost for the equipment and services, and what kinds of contracts they had to sign. They can also tell you how well the systems worked if they had an actual emergency.
You can also research prospective alarm companies with the appropriate authorities in your area. This could include your state Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, and any local consumer protection agencies. You should also check their license status with the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies.
Make sure that you get written estimates from several companies before making your decision. A reputable company should do a professional assessment of your home and security needs before trying to sell you a system.
You should also have a list of questions that you are prepared to ask, including:
- Does the system require professional installation, or can you do it yourself?
- If the system is professionally installed, who does the installation?
- Does the company monitor the system, or do the subcontract to another agency?
- What are the contract terms?
- Is there a power backup in the event of a power outage?
- What is the policy on repairs and upgrades?
- What types of monitoring does the company offer? Is it just burglary and break-in, or does it also cover fire, carbon monoxide and water detection?
- Are they the actual equipment and service provider? For example, some vendors are authorized dealers of products from other companies like ADT or Control 4 Home Security. This means that through these companies you can order services like ADT Pulse, which combines home security with home automation.You want to make sure that you know the name of the company that actually manages your account, because they are the ones you will need to contact if you have questions after you sign the contract.
Once you have made your decision, you need to read the fine print on the contract to make sure it clearly states the terms, and includes all the information that you need including:
- Installation information including the price and requirements, such as an active phone line;
- The fee for services;
- The contract period;
- Warranty information;
- Information on your right to cancel;
- Cancellation forms; and,
- The date and the name and address of the seller.
After You Sign
Contact your local emergency services to find out if you need to register your system. You should also find out their policy on fines for false alarms.
On the day of installation, make sure the installer tests the system and shows you how to use it properly. He should also give you a user’s manual and contact information for the security company and the monitoring station.