Home security scams prey on people's sense of vulnerability. Everyone wants to keep their home and family safe from intruders, fire, and other dangers, and unfortunately, there are plenty of con artists willing to take advantage and sell security equipment that is substandard, installed incorrectly, or just plain dysfunctional.
As with most things in life, if a home security deal sounds unrealistically good, you need to be wary. Here are 5 ways you can protect yourself from being scammed by dishonest home security companies.
1. Beware of anyone offering you a free system in exchange for putting a company sign on your yard as advertising. Often, these "free" systems actually lock you into an expensive, long-term contract for home security monitoring, and the systems may be made up of equipment that is not well made and not installed correctly. Low quality equipment and poor installation are two factors that contribute to false alarms, and increasing numbers of cities are imposing fines on people whose systems produce more than a specified maximum number of false alarms.
2. If a door-to-door salesperson wears a GE or Honeywell logo on his or her uniform, be very suspicious. Scam victims have reported door-to-door sellers wearing these logos. Neither of these companies sell home security equipment directly to consumers, and they do not allow people not associated with them to wear their logos.
3. Be wary if a company offers to install a system without assessing your particular home's vulnerabilities first. In order to function properly, home security systems need to be tailored to your home's specific layout, even if the security system components can be bought off-the-shelf. Companies offering to do this may end up only putting sensors on doors and windows, when in fact you need a mix of sensors located to suit your home's design.
4. Don't sign a contract if a representative tells you that you have 30 days to terminate the contract. The "cooling off" period specified by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is actually only three days, so there is a good chance the rep may be trying to appear generous by offering a 30-day grace period. Don't sign anything without reading the text printed on the back of the contract; in fact, it's a good rule of thumb not to make any decisions involving a contract at your door with someone you've never met before.
5. Watch out for reps who tell you that your security company is closing or is merging with their company. Con artists in New York recently used this tactic, telling people their (the homeowner's) security company was going out of business, and that they should switch over to the scammer's company. The only thing that happened was that consumers ended up with two different security monitoring contracts, and without an easy way to close them. The company trying this in New York eventually paid compensation to scam victims, but there's nothing to prevent this scam from popping up in other regions.
If you already have a home security system and someone claiming to be with your home security company shows up unannounced at your door, be very suspicious. Any legitimate home security company will not send reps to homes unannounced. And if you don't have a home security system, do you really think you should make such an important decision after being put on the spot by a stranger?
Should someone come to your door offering a "one time only" deal on a home security system, you should see it as a red flag. There are plenty of reputable and legitimate home security companies, and they stay away from practices like this. Legitimate monitored home security companies may run installation specials, but they're generally offered through a website, and not by someone showing up at your house pressuring you into buying.