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ADT Still Relies on Vulnerable Phone Lines, while Burglars are Cutting Them

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December 13, 2013
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ADT Still Relies on Vulnerable Phone Lines, while Burglars are Cutting Them

It was only a few days ago that I blogged about AT&T’s efforts to help the US transition off of our traditional “hard copper” phone lines. As that post explained, those “POTS” phone lines (POTS stands for Plain Old Telephone Service) were at the heart of most US alarm systems, going back to the 1970’s. And the unfortunate reality is that those alarms systems are vulnerable… in a very basic way. That’s why smarter alarm companies use safer cellular monitoring - like FrontPoint. In fact, we have used cellular monitoring in every system we have ever sold.

And now alarm system users are learning the hard way just how easy it is for intruders to defeat that traditional phone line – or even its more current version, the Internet phone connection. And as recent reports from across the US demonstrate, the bad guys are getting smarter. Here’s a great example of this disturbing trend, from Chicago.

There are about 40 million security systems in the U.S. The I-Team uncovered why many of them are vulnerable, leaving businesses and homeowners with a false sense of security-- including a suburban man who recently had more than 30,000 pills stolen from his pharmacy. That blaring alarm lets criminals know they have minutes to grab what they can and get out before police arrive. At least that is what many security system customers believe. But what if the siren falls on deaf ears?

"Normally when I walk in there is a beep until I go and turn off the alarm. I opened the door and there was nothing," said Richmond Nimako, Kingsway Pharmacy owner. Nimako owns Kingsway Pharmacy in west suburban Aurora. The store was burglarized last month. "They took every single narcotic. Our safe back there was broken. Things had been ransacked all over the place," said Nimako.

What the Burglars Did

He says these exposed phone lines behind the building were cut, shutting down the connection between his security system and the monitoring company, ADT. "They cut the lines, they had time to come in here, they took all of our cameras apart. They took the brain, the recorder with them. They cut our alarm system, they actually chopped it in pieces and put it on our desk so we would know they were here," said Nimako.

What Really Hurts

Nimako tells the I-Team he had no idea ADT would not be alerted if the phone lines went down. The small print in the ADT contract states: "ADT will not receive alarm signals when the telephone line. . . is not operating or has been cut." "It was very frustrating because you depend on them, you pay them, and for 10 years we thought we were safe," said Nimako.

Is Your System Vulnerable?

Other security customers told the I-Team they are shocked to know their systems might be susceptible. "It's a simple thing, you think you'd check on that, but you don't, and it's a new way to get in I guess," said Yale Valdez, home security customer.  "Going to go home and read the fine print and find out more about it and see if there is any way to get around that," said Cherilyn Vorster-Smalley, home security customer. The I-Team easily found exposed home and business phone lines around the Chicago area.

Local Alarm Company Knows Better

"You have to understand this. If your phone line gets cut, your system will not call the service," said Adam Bland, All Wired Up. Bland owns an independent security company. He encourages people not to depend on an alarm system that is only monitored through the phone lines. "I have been doing this for over 20 years, and we have seen phone lines get cut for the last 20, 25 years. I recommend the cell radio backup, which always sends a signal whether the phone lines get cut or not," said Bland.

Common Misconception

Back in Aurora, Nimako claims he did not know about such a back-up system. In a statement to the I-Team, ADT says: "We recommend customers use several layers of security, using both wireless and wired options." Said Nimako, "They are no longer our monitoring company. We have a better system now as far as I'm concerned." As for the exposed phone lines in the back of the pharmacy, AT&T tells the I-Team it's up to the building owner to decide where the cables go and if they should be completely covered and secured.

ADT Still Selling Alarm Systems Using POTS or Internet Lines?

In terms of existing alarm subscribers, it would be a monumental task to get all those physical phone lines converted to cellular monitoring, but that is exactly what many alarm service providers are working hard to do. And if you are really committed to providing reliable protection, that is the right thing to do.

In the meantime, how about the systems being sold today? One might think that any alarm company really interested in the peace of mind of its subscribers would no longer install an alarm system that relies on a vulnerable physical connection – POTS or Internet - but there are still plenty of alarm companies that do. And the names of those alarm companies might surprise you.

With a burglary taking place every 14 seconds in the US, and burglars getting smarter, we really do need to offer the best and most reliable technology in a monitored home alarm system – and that means one with safer cellular monitoring. FrontPoint specializes in these systems: as the leader in wireless home security, and the #1 ranked alarm company in the US, we have only sold cellular monitoring since day one. You can even set up your FrontPoint system yourself, in about half an hour, and move it when you move. FrontPoint systems are safer, smarter, simpler, more affordable, and virtually impossible to defeat – and you’ll never have to worry about that burglar with the $3 pair of wire cutters.

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