Watch Out for These Home Security Systems Scams

Door-to-door sales of home security systems could be a costly trick: Internet Scambusters #457

Home security systems can give us extra peace of mind in protecting ourselves and our possessions.

But unqualified, unscrupulous and downright dishonest salespeople can exploit our security concerns when all they want to do is get their hands on our money and the very things we’re trying to safeguard.

This week, we show how this type of door-to-door sales scam works and what you can do to avoid it.

Let’s get started…

Watch Out for These Home Security Systems Scams

You’d think that increased demand for home security systems would be bad news for crooks.

But not for all of them. For some scammers, it’s a golden opportunity.

We’re all concerned about our home security as much as we are about online safety — and with good reason.

The decline in burglary rates, which has been a trend of the past few decades, has slowed down almost to a stop, with more than 3.13 million victims reported in 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available.

In an earlier special report, 15 Steps You Can Take To Prevent Home Burglary, we spotlighted a particular burglary incident that hit the friends of a couple of Scambusters team members, and highlighted 15 steps you can take to prevent a home burglary.

It’s inevitable, though, that scammers have spotted the opportunity to cash in on our vulnerability and fears, using door-to-door, high pressure techniques to sell overpriced home security systems that are, at best, inadequate or unsuitable for a homeowner’s needs.

Even legitimate security companies have been caught using unlicensed, commission-only employees, including students, to sell or install home security systems that they know little or nothing about.

In some states, Texas for instance, being an unlicensed solicitor is a misdemeanor.

These unscrupulous sales people may claim to be associated with reputable companies, when they’re not.

And they’ve even been known to call on homes that already have home security systems, telling the homeowners their system is ineffective and needs to be replaced or updated.

In some instances, scammers just take a deposit for installation of home security systems and then are never seen again.

In others, they claim they’re security specialists, or even technicians from the company that already has installed a home security system, as a way of getting inside victims’ homes to steal valuables.

As usual, older folk are particularly vulnerable to these tricks and techniques, either letting people into their homes or signing up just to get rid of the tricksters.

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued an alert about the increase in these door-to-door sales scams.

“These scammers use deceptive, high pressure tactics to get people to buy expensive, and sometimes substandard, home security systems they often don’t need,” the Commission warns.

Their tricks include bogus “special offers” if you’ll sign up immediately and “free” equipment for which victims end up signing an expensive maintenance contract.

Scammers may also claim there’s been a recent big increase in burglaries in the neighborhood or, if the owner already has a home security system installed, that the supplier has gone out of business and will no longer be able to repair or maintain the system.

They may claim that having a home security system entitles you to big discounts on your homeowners’ insurance, when this is not always the case.

As with all doorstep solicitors, the FTC says you should always check on the identity of anyone trying to sell you a home security system.

Of course, they may show you an ID but this doesn’t necessarily prove they are who they say they are.

If you find yourself interested in their offer, ask not only for their contact details but also information about their contractor’s license — the number, the state where they’re registered and the name under which the license is filed. Then check these out before going further.

See also our previous article, How to Do a Credentials Check on Almost Anyone, for more guidance on how to check people’s credentials.

In addition, the FTC suggests the following steps:

  • Ask the salesperson for references from previous customers, then contact them to find out both about the equipment and the service.
  • Never accept just a single bid; get several and compare them. Ignore those “special offer” tricks to try to get you to sign up.
  • Insist estimates are in writing, specifying the equipment, who will install it, how it will be maintained and, of course, the cost.
  • Ensure everything you’ve agreed is written into the contract and that you check the fine print for commitments you might be signing up for, such as monitoring fees.

And if you do sign a contract which you later regret, remember that you have three days to cancel it provided it was signed anywhere but on the company’s own premises. You don’t have to explain your reasons for cancelling.

For more detailed guidance, see the FTC’s page Knock, Knock. Who’s There?

The Security Industry Alarm Coalition also has information about unlicensed door-to-door salespeople and would-be thieves, pointing out that legitimate alarm companies would never send out a technician to repair or replace equipment, or to seek access to your home without making a prior appointment.

For more on this, see Be Aware of Unlicensed Door to Door Sales People.

It’s also important to find out if any home security system you’re thinking of buying requires a telephone line (many people use only cell phones these days) and whether your local police and department requires you to register your system and pay for any false alarm call-outs.

And, of course, you should check with your insurer about entitlement to discounts for installing home security systems.

Here at Scambusters, we’re all for helping build a safer world and protecting property.

But if someone uninvited tries to sell you one of their home security systems, just make sure you’re not opening the door to a scam.

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!