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How To Shop for a Home Security System and Avoid Scams

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Home security systems are designed to protect you, your home, and your valuables. They vary in price and what they can do. Not all security companies are legit. So when sellers come knocking on your door or use high-pressure sales tactics, it’s time to put your guard up. Learn the questions to ask, signs of a scam, and where to report fraud.

Shopping for a Home Security System

Security systems can do more than just warn you about intruders — they also can notify authorities about a medical emergency; monitor smoke, carbon monoxide, and water levels or pressures; and include video surveillance. Some systems also are linked into your home's wiring, heating, or lighting systems and use your mobile phone or computer to control them. Once you decide what you’re looking for, here’s what to do next.

Get references. Talk with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and current customers about home security systems.

Read about different companies. Search online for a company’s name, plus words like “complaint” or “scam.” See what other people are saying about their experiences with the companies you’re considering.

Check that a company’s contractors’ licenses are current. Contact the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies for the right agency to contact in your state.

Get written estimates. Reputable companies won’t try to sell you anything before learning about your needs and the layout of your home. Find out about:

  • Services
    • Does the company offer interactive services like smoke and fire detection, remote control, video surveillance, email notifications, and special apps for smart phones?
    • What happens if the power goes out? Is there a back-up battery system?
  • Installation
    • Who will install and monitor the system? Some companies subcontract this work to third parties.
  • Contract Duration
    • How long is the contract period for monitoring? One year? More?
    • Are there penalties for early termination?
    • What happens if you move before the contract period ends?
  • Monitoring Cost and Details
    • How much does monitoring cost?
    • How often will you be billed?
    • Does the company call you before or after notifying authorities if an alarm goes off?
    • What happens if the company can’t reach you when the alarm goes off? Is the alarm reset? Do they call the police? Or other people?
  • Warranty and Repairs
    • What does the warranty cover, and for how long? Is it from the manufacturer or their installer?
    • Who is responsible for repairs or upgrades to the system?
  • Cancellation Policies
    • What happens if you change your mind? How are refunds handled? Find out before you sign any sales and service agreements.

Read the contract. Once you’ve chosen a company, make sure the written contract includes all oral promises made by the salesperson, that it’s dated, and includes the seller’s name and address. Your contract package should include:

  • the installation price
  • monthly, quarterly, or annual monitoring fee
  • contract period
  • any discounts
  • a written warranty
  • the owner’s manual
  • an explanation of your right to cancel the deal
  • cancellation forms

Contact your police and fire departments. Ask whether you need to register your system, if there’s a fee, and if there are fines if they respond to false alarms.

Signs of a Scam

Salespeople might knock on doors in your neighborhood, pitching home security systems. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many companies use this sales method to drum up business. Unfortunately, so do scammers and dishonest businesses.

Some state laws require door-to-door salespeople to tell you their name, the name of the business they represent, and the goods or services they’re selling before asking you any questions or making any statements. Other states require salespeople to show you their "pocket card" license and a photo ID. Take a few minutes to look over their documentation.

Pushy door-to-door sales agents use a variety of approaches and pitches to get you to buy home security systems and services that might not be right for you — or that might be scams. Here’s what to look out for:

They say you need to act now to get the deal they’re offering. For example, they may try to get you to sign a contract right away by telling you that the equipment will be free. More than likely, strings are attached. To get your “free” alarm, you may have to sign a long-term and expensive system monitoring contract.

They pressure their way into your home and then refuse to leave. It’s not rude to tell a salesperson you’re not interested. It’s much easier — and safer — to say “no" on the doorstep than to try to get the salesperson to leave once they’re inside. If a salesperson continues to pressure you after you’ve asked them to leave, call the police.

They use scare tactics. For example, they might talk about a rash of supposed burglaries in your neighborhood.

Some dishonest door-to-door salespeople target homeowners who have signs on their properties for security systems with other companies. In these cases:

The sales agents state or imply that they’re from your existing security company. They say they’re there to “upgrade” or “replace” your current security system. Once they go inside your home, however, they may install a new security system and have you sign papers that include an expensive contract for the monitoring service. Before you let them in, ask to see identification. If you’re still not comfortable, call your security company to verify they sent a sales agent to your home.

They claim your security company has gone out of business. They say they’ve taken over the accounts, and that you have to buy new equipment and sign new contracts. If this happens, call your current monitoring company to confirm. Normally, your current company would tell you about a change like this. You wouldn’t hear about it through an unannounced visit by another company.

What To Do If You Decide To Cancel

You have the right to cancel the deal. The FTC’s Cooling-Off Rule gives you three business days to cancel a deal if you signed the contract in your home, or if you signed in any location that’s not the seller’s permanent place of business. You don’t have to give a reason. You have a right to change your mind, even if the equipment has already been installed.

Also, some alarm companies include a return policy in their contracts. This policy gives you a certain number of days to test the equipment and services. If you decide the system is not for you, you can return the equipment, cancel the service with no or with minimal penalties, and get a refund.

The salesperson must give you two copies of a cancellation form (one to keep and one to send back to them) and a copy of your contract. The contract must be dated, show the name and address of the seller, and explain your right to cancel. You may have additional consumer protections under state law. Check with your state attorney general or local consumer protection agency.

Report Scams

If you suspect a scam, report it to the police, your state attorney general, or local consumer protection agency. Your report may help someone else from being scammed.