“If it sounds too good to be true,” my folks used to say, “it probably is. Watch out!” The Minneapolis Police Department is saying the same thing about home burglar alarms and security systems. They report that door-to-door sales persons have been pushing “free” alarm systems that end up costing thousands of dollars.
The sales person points out what a lovely home you have, noting the curb appeal, possessions in the home and being sure to play on the age of the alarm user or their children. … They could offer you a monthly discount if you sign up now or provide them names of other potential customers.
DON’T BUY THAT – Your free alarm system could cost you thousands of dollars.
There are hundreds of companies who bring in sales people from out of state. They put them up in hotel rooms and then take them out to canvas neighborhoods looking for potential customers. Some are reputable – others are like Piranhas looking for their next commission check. Some have done their homework by going to your local police records unit and checking to see where a burglary happened. They will then canvas that neighborhood and advising the potential customer of the incident. Their soft spoken concern for their potential customer is a means for them to win your confidence and have a contract signed.
“Free” alarms cost consumers in several ways:
1) Alarm companies always charge a monthly monitoring fee. That is true even if the alarm system itself is “free.” The contract locks in the buyer for two to three years.
2) The alarm system malfunctions, causing false alarms. Most cities charge homeowners after a certain number of false alarms. The charges for false alarms mount up quickly. According to the MPD, 98 percent of all burglar alarms, nationwide, are false alarms, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and using up police time and resources.
3) Service calls and repairs cost money. Sometimes the company does not even have local service reps and there is no way to fix a faulty alarm.
The Minneapolis Police Department advises:
1. Take the time to call your local City business office to see if the sales person and company soliciting you need to be licensed.
2. Check to be sure they’re carrying a license to operate if your city requires that. If not, ask them to leave. Document your conversation. Get the sales person’s name/phone number and that of the company he/she represents. Ask them for a copy of the City’s ordinance. Minneapolis requires them to provide you with one.
3. Get a written statement – not estimate from the sales person listing all the fees. They may offer the system free but may charge you for installation and will ALWAYS charge you a monthly monitoring fee. This will either be monthly or yearly. Some will require you to have that fee either charged directly to a credit card or automatic debit from your checking account on a monthly basis. Some may send hard copy bills. Monitoring can cost $30-$50.00 or more per month.The contracts are anywhere from two to three years.
Ask what their policy is if the alarm is the result of equipment or alarm company error. Will they reimburse you? What is the cost of a service call? Get this in writing on the contract also.
4. Don’t sign up right away or feel pressured to do so. There are many alarm companies out there to choose from. Don’t rely on a nationwide company to be the best choice. Some installers contract with alarm companies who monitor their customers systems and may not be in the same state.
The scam isn’t limited to this summer or to Minneapolis. The Denver Post reported last year:
So is the “free burglar alarm” approach being offered door-to-door an outright scam? Perhaps not – but in many cases the salespeople certainly skate close to the edge.
In the words of Frank Lawrence, vice president of Rocky Mountain Security Services, Inc., in Denver, “I can guarantee you that I am not going to share [with a door-to-door salesman] the layout of my house, my security precautions or my home and holiday schedule.”
If a leader in the security alarm industry is this careful, shouldn’t you be, too?