Alarming security system stories

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One of the doorknockers that plague subdivisions in our area are the sellers of security systems. The doorknockers are employees of third-party companies that sell services AND collect the money on behalf of the large companies that sell home security services. The problem is, the salespeople you talk to at your front door will sometimes promise you just about anything to get you to sign the tiny-type, many-page contract.

These people are not necessarily scammers but they are paid on commission and get large bonuses for “upselling” you, getting you to buy. Once that’s accomplished, these people and their promises might vanish like a spring snow in North Idaho. Now if you have ANY problems at all, you’re forced to deal with the Big Company call center, oftentimes overseas. Good luck with that.

REMEMBER — Always pay with a credit card (so you can put it in contest if you need to). Never set up “automatic” payment or “automatic” renewals.

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MY STORY: Almost 20 years ago, when I first moved to Coeur d’Alene, I contracted with one of the large home security services to protect my home. When it was all said and done, I had spent close to $6,000 for hardware and electronics. The monthly fee was something like $29.95.

In the beginning, my wife and I accidentally set off the silent alarm. The company called the police. We were quickly confronted by two dedicated public servants in blue who asked both of us to “break out some ID.” We got used to the system and quit setting it off by accident.

The months rolled along without further incident. All of a sudden, one evening while I was reading a book in my favorite chair, I heard an unusual sound. It turned out that one of the plastic, glued on, wireless window sensors had unglued itself and fallen onto the windowsill.

As I got up to see what happened, another sensor detached itself and then another. The sensors were literally dropping like flies. I called the alarm company. When I explained what happened, the “customer service representative” quickly told me that the company would come right out the next day and replace all of the “defective” sensors — for a normal service fee of $199, plus travel time, plus parts.

I had read my contract with said company prior to calling them and found no contractual basis for the fees quoted. I pointed this out to the CSR. She informed me that on page 54, paragraph 2, subparagraph 3a (in the really, really tiny print) I had agreed, by signing the contract, that the company could change the terms of the contract from time to time, without my explicit consent or knowledge. I informed the CSR that I was cancelling my contract and followed that up the next day, with a well-written letter of explanation, sent by certified mail. Problem solved!

Not exactly.

A few months later, at 2:23 a.m., my wife and I were jolted out of bed by a buzzing alarm that could be heard the length and breadth of our house (and probably by our neighbors three houses away. I called the 24-hour alarm company and was informed that the main battery, in the control box, was faulty and needed servicing. When I asked how I could turn the alarm sound off temporarily, she informed me that for liability reasons, I could not.

While on the phone with the CSR, I asked my wife to bring me a hammer and my large wire cutter. After about a minute of assaulting the control box, the alarm ceased. I then got back on the phone and told the company representative that I had found the off switch.

I haven’t heard from the company since. Problem solved!

LESSON: Read your contract carefully before signing (and keep a large hammer and wire cutters handy).

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VIN NUMBER SCAM: Every car has a unique VIN, vehicle identification number. Consumers in our area have reported getting a large number of calls from scammers offering extended warranty services or free service work for vehicles on a “factory recall list.”

They first ask for your vehicles’ VIN number. They then “need” your personal identification information, name and address “just to confirm your eligibility.” The caller then asks for your vehicle’s make, year and model. If you provide that, the scammer quickly moves on to ask for a debit card number and/or your bank account information.

If the consumer is naive enough, I’m sure, they eventually get down to asking for your blood type and latest cholesterol results. This is a new twist on an old scam — identity theft. Don’t be a sucker — hang UP before giving out ANY personal information.

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LOCKING MAILBOXES TAKE 2: A reader of the column pointed out that you can leave your outgoing mail in your locking mailbox. It’s true, you can. There is a small door that often has a clip on it, visible once the mail carrier opens the door. You of course must raise the flag on your mailbox, just like the old unlocked mailboxes. The mail carrier doesn’t have a key to open your locking mailbox. Each locking mailbox has its own key. The outgoing portion of the box must be accessible to the carrier.

Unfortunately, the mail, whether it’s coming to you or being sent out by you, is a very attractive target for thieves. Not only that, but when you raise the little red flag on your mailbox, locking or not, it signals to crooks that there’s mail in them thar boxes and you become an easy target.

Locking mailboxes are good for incoming mail and small packages. Do yourself a favor and don’t put outgoing mail in your mailbox, locking or not. Take it to the drive-through at the post office or drop it in an official box around town. The scammers, crooks and thieves will hate you for it.

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LATE BREAKING DEAL: Ring Doorbell is a doorbell that replaces your old electronic one. It provides you real time video at your door. The only problem is that the notification and videos can only be sent to a smart phone or computer. You can see as well as talk to the person at your door. I have had one since they came out. The app works well and is easy to install.

Last Thursday Amazon bought the company and reduced the cost of the doorbell from $139 to $99. In that Amazon now owns the company, if you don’t like the device, you can send it back within 30 days for a full refund.

(Using the Ring doorbell, I once answered my door in Cd’A from a beach on Maui!)

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REMEMBER BILL BROOKS: “He’s On Your Side”

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I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on. Call me at (208) 699-0506, or email me at BillBrooksAdvocate@gmail.com (#GoGetEmBillBrooks) You can follow me at www.billbrooksconsumeradvocate.com. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate and the Broker and Owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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