September 12, 2012
Alarm Company Door Knocker Scams Exposed by Multiple BBB Offices
Phew – we all made it through another summer of door knocking alarm salespeople! While it’s true that many unsuspecting homeowners did fall for the pitch and sign up, I’m happy to report that an increasing number of savvy shoppers said “No!” – in many instances because they had seen the warnings about door knocker scams all over the web, in particular from multiple offices of the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
This was the worst summer on record for door knocker alarm salesperson complaints. “Knocker” scam reports popped up all over the US, and some of them named names – companies you have probably read about before, here and elsewhere. Millions of homeowners got an unexpected a taste of how door knocker alarm salespeople operate. And a new fraudulent tactic was added to the list: door knockers who pretended to be from your alarm company. This article from the Kansas BBB describes the approach.
Reputable home security companies do not mind scrutiny. The other type sometimes employs high-pressure tactics and shady practices. One scam that has come to the BBB’s attention is salespersons actually wearing the logos of well-known companies and misrepresenting themselves as being from those companies. They may have targeted a house because they saw that company’s sign in the yard. They will tell homeowners that they are selecting a few homes to participate in a new wireless program and may even threaten that you will lose your existing alarm protection unless you switch to the new program. If a scammer tries to sell you on this pitch, you should call your existing alarm company immediately while they are still at your door. They won’t mind waiting if they’re legitimate.
Not a New Tactic, but Getting Worse
Yes, this type of scam is totally outrageous, and it’s been tried before – but never to the extent that it was reported this summer. It seems that many of these door knockers have discovered it may be easier to steal another alarm company’s customer than to create a new subscriber. And several door knocker companies have been implicated. Here are two excerpts from another Kansas article addressing the same topic.
A Utah-based home security and alarm company with door-to-door solicitors in the Lawrence area has an F-rating from the Better Business Bureau and recently reached a $76,000 settlement with the Missouri attorney general partly for misleading customers about its relationship with other security companies. Shayne Kahle, operations manager at Lawrence-based security company Rueschhoff, said about a dozen customers had called about door-to-door solicitors who in some cases were misrepresenting themselves as Rueschhoff employees. The solicitors said they needed to check the person’s home alarm system as a way to try to get inside to pitch them a new system from an out-of-state company.
The Better Business Bureau listing for Pinnacle Security, LLC includes 1,196 complaints in the last three years and settlements in several states. According to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s office, the settlement there resolved a May 2011 lawsuit in which Koster’s office alleged Pinnacle induced consumers to buy security systems by misrepresenting they were associated with the consumer’s current alarm company and that homeowners would receive free services when they were not.
Doing Anything to Make a Sale
Kansas and Missouri are far from unusual as scam locales for summer alarm salespeople. In this article from Wisconsin, the BBB office there has its hands full as well.
Marcos Villarreal had just moved into a West Allis neighborhood and his girlfriend was a little skittish about some of the people hanging out in the area, so when a salesman from Security One showed up offering a discount on a monitored alarm system, the deal sounded pretty good. "They said, 'Since you're on a corner, it'll be about 20-25 bucks a month. You just let us stick a sign up and advertise,' " Villarreal said. "It was double that when the bill came. I went ahead and canceled a week or two later. . . . "A month or two later, I noticed they were still charging my credit card. So I canceled the card on them. Then they sent me a bill for about four grand." Since then, collectors have been calling him to pay his contract in full.
Many of the [BBB] complaints in the past year echo what Villarreal experienced - companies that don't honor the discounts their salespeople promise, and salespeople who say contracts can be canceled at any time but don't mention fees of thousands of dollars to get out of the agreement early. Susan Bach, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau, said that when the organization complained to Security One on Villarreal's behalf, the company told them to call the collection agency. Villarreal said he tried that and got nowhere. The BBB asked again, but got the same reply. The matter was closed as unresolved. The lack of response has contributed to Security One International's F rating with the business bureau.
Great Advice from the BBB
From the same Wisconsin article, here’s some great advice on what to do when you hear that knock on your door.
Before you sign up
Make sure you need the service. Get multiple bids. Know the answer to key questions: what would be your total monthly cost, all fees and charges included? How, when and at what cost can you cancel your contract?
Research the company. Check the business’ rating on the Better Business Bureau website and search the Internet to find out any problems with the company. You can also call your local police department to ask if it has had any problems with the company.
Once you sign up
Monitor what you're being charged to make sure it's in accordance with your contract. If you were overcharged, contact the company. If you charged the services to your credit (not debit) card, you can contact your credit card company within 60 days to have the charges reversed.
If the equipment never worked or is faulty, don't pay. Contact the company. If the problem's not solved, you can file a Complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
I am still seriously concerned that the aggressive tactics employed by many door knockers are not healthy for the alarm industry over the long term. Door knockers approached millions of homeowners this summer: in many cases the damage is done, and the opportunity to provide peace of mind with integrity has been clouded for other alarm companies who are transparent and consistently ethical in their behavior. Frankly, door knockers do not want consumers to do the research: it’s too easy to find the complaints, the low ratings from the BBB and other sites, and even more attractive offers from other alarm companies with better reputations and service records – like FrontPoint. When you’re ready to learn why we are the nationwide leader in wireless home security, just check us out online. We make home security and home automation safer, smarter, simpler, more affordable, and virtually impossible to defeat. And best of all, you never have to answer that knock at your door.