Statistically, your home is most likely to be burglarized between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. during July or August. The typical intruder is male, about 25 years old, and looking for cash and easy-to-carry (and sell) items such as jewelry, laptops, guns, cameras and small electronics. He's also watching out for evidence of a home security system.
In addition, there are con artists looking for front yard warning signs and other indicators that boast protection. Home security scammers, also now in their peak season, search for residences with existing installations so they can carry out these schemes:
- Posing as technicians for the home security system company noted on lawn signs or window decals, they claim they need to make repairs or examine your system. In fact, says Consumer Reports, “they’re tampering with the alarm system so they can return and burglarize your house.” It’s unlikely that your security company would dispatch a technician to your home without prior notification, but before allowing a worker to enter, authenticate any unsolicited phone call; those calling to arrange an appointment in advance could be scammers spoofing the company’s name and number on your caller ID.
- In what’s known as “slamming,” unscrupulous sales agents falsely claim that your current security system company is about to go belly-up or already has. Or they may lie about being from your existing company and say they need to upgrade or replace your system. Either way, it’s a move to get you into a more expensive, long-term contract. Besides paying more for what could be inferior service, you could be hit with expensive penalty fees (hidden in the small print) for trying to cancel that new contract.
- Faux freebies, in which you’re promised a free system and front lawn signs, come with the gotcha of outrageous monitoring charges, which could be hundreds more per month than what legitimate companies charge (typically from $30 to $60 per month).
- Then there are door-to-door salespeople trying to recruit new business. After having you complete phony paperwork and provide a deposit, they take the money and run — never to be heard from again.
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What to know:
1. Reputable companies don’t just send repairmen or sales agents to customers’ homes unannounced. And if your company really is going out of business or merging with another firm, expect to be notified by mail, not by telephone or email.
2. Before signing with any home security provider, get references of existing customers in your neighborhood — and verify them. Also call city hall (or local police) and your home insurance provider. Some municipalities have specific requirements, such as having a nearby facility for system monitoring; insurers may give discounts for using certain security system providers. Background checks should include installation contractors’ license number, the state where they’re registered and the name under which the license is filed.
3. Beware of limited-time offers and claims that the company is ready to immediately install the system; this sometimes occurs during a sales call. Reputable companies let you compare bids and engage in a comprehensive review of your security needs.
4. Get everything in writing, and closely read (and reread) the contract before signing it. Most alarm contracts are for up to five years, so make sure you know exactly what you’re getting: If the alarm sounds, does the company first notify you or the police? How soon? What happens if you can’t be reached? Does the company have a local security-patrol car? Are there costs for false alarms? If so, who pays? What’s the early-termination fee if you move? Who is responsible for registering the system with police — the company or homeowners?
Make sure the contract specifies the equipment, who will install and maintain it (and how), and the cost. Check the fine print for allowed increases in monitoring fees, contract terms, and your right to cancel the deal.
5. If you sign and immediately regret doing so, act quickly — even if equipment has already been installed. The Federal Trade Commission’s Cooling-Off Rule allows consumers three business days to cancel the deal if they sign the contract in their home or at a location other than the seller’s permanent place of business.
For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.
Also of Interest
- Prize Lies: How to Spot a Sweepstakes Scam
- 9 Surprisingly common causes of hearing loss
- Quiz: How much do you know about credit and debt?
- Join AARP: savings, resources and news for your well-being
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