home security alarm

Ready to Fight Back

ESA, ADT crack down on shady home alarm system business practices

Last spring, 87-year-old Mary Jackson was pulled away from entertaining her friends by a knock at the door. The visitor said he was from the alarm company, which he claimed had acquired ADT, and needed to swap her existing security panel out for a new one.

After several attempts to get the pushy man to leave her house, Jackson finally acquiesced and allowed him to work on her security system. In the end, she wound up with a new contract and panel, neither of which she had wanted or needed.

Cases like Jackson's are more common than you might suspect. Merlin Guilbeau, the executive director of the Electronic Security Association, said the Council of Better Business Bureaus fielded about 3,000 complaints against the home alarm system industry in 2009 alone. In many cases, door-todoor sales representatives are pressuring and manipulating homeowners into buying a new system or panel or even signing a different contract. Especially for elderly homeowners, this can be a confusing and scary experience.

The Straight and Narrow

In an effort to establish its member companies as pillars of assurance, ESA announced at ISC West that it is adopting a stricter code of ethics and stronger standards of conduct. ESA is the largest and oldest electronic security trade association in the United States, and its members include more than 2,800 security companies and 500,000 professionals.

However rare they may be, it's clear that such cases have a way of sullying the image of the entire security monitoring industry. That's why ESA's new code of ethics includes a gamut of best practices and standards, ranging from the concrete—like enhanced identification requirements and better refund policies—to the more abstract, such as more respect for customers and no false accusations about competitors. The code also covers sales and marketing practices, contracting methods, privacy, refunds and more.

"Trust in the industry as a whole is being undermined by these rogue reps," said Stephen A. Cox, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. "We hope these more stringent rules will encourage every player in the industry to bring integrity and honesty to the forefront of their customer service and sales practices."

Guilbeau said the new requirements take effect immediately. Members who fail to comply could face termination of their ESA membership.

Taking Action

Simultaneously, ADT Security Services, an ESA member, announced that it is suing three alarm salespeople and a company for similar unfair and unlawful business practices.

Lance Woods, one of the owners of The Alarm Co., of Memphis, Tenn., is accused of coercing a 95-year-old homeowner into switching out her ADT system and signing a contract with Security Networks. Apparently Woods told the woman that he was an ADT employee and that he had to upgrade her system because there had been a wave of violent crime in her area. It's understandable that she would have felt she had no choice in the matter.

David Bleisch, ADT's chief legal officer, said the company has taken previous legal action against The Alarm Co.'s owners, who have received an "F" rating from the Mid-South Better Business Bureau.

According to a press release, ADT has received complaints from consumers in at least 22 states regarding shady sales practices. Just last year, the company announced that it would start taking legal action against those individual salespeople who commit deceptive sales practices.

"It is our responsibility as the nation's leading home security provider to aggressively pursue cases against people who lie, mislead and harass unsuspecting victims," Bleisch said.

More Secure

Thankfully the industry is starting to take notice of such crimes. After countless phone calls and letters, Jackson was able to get out of the new contract and have her original service restored. She also was pleased to hear that ESA has adopted stricter policies for its members.

"They won't be able to come in and do this again," Jackson said. "It was much-needed over the years, and something had to be done .... I applaud ESA for taking a stand and making sure that is members will be more ethical and professional in the hopes that others won't have to go through the horrible experience that I did.

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