How to Protect Yourself From Door-to-Door Hard Sell Tactics

ABC News Fixer gives tips for when home alarm salesmen come knocking.

ByABC News
December 11, 2014, 6:44 AM

— -- A six-month ABC News investigation – prompted by complaints from viewers to the ABC News Fixer – reveals some of the sleazy tactics used by some door-to-door salesmen pushing home alarm systems.

Consumers have lodged thousands of complaints against some home alarm security companies, complaining of high-pressure sales tactics, such as salesmen pretending to be from a consumer’s current alarm company to trick them into signing new contracts.

Other consumers have complained that salesmen exaggerated their community’s crime rate or signed them up for a longer time period than originally promised.

Once hooked, many consumers found they would owe thousands of dollars in fees if they wanted to get out of their contracts.

The Sell Game: For more alarm sales horror stories, watch the full ABC News investigation Friday on “20/20”.

The shenanigans plaguing the alarm industry have caught the eye of the Federal Trade Commission, which cautions consumers about these red flags:

  • Watch out for pitches for a “free” system that’s only available if you act immediately. Most likely, you’ll be asked to sign a long-term, costly contract for monitoring.
  • If a sales person pressures his way in and refuses to leave, that’s another big warning sign. Remember: it’s not impolite to tell a salesperson that you’re not interested. (Better yet, say “no” on the doorstep.)
  • Be wary of claims that crime is up in your neighborhood or that homes down the street have just been burglarized.
  • Say goodbye to any solicitor who refuses to show you an ID with his name and company. Some states require sellers to be licensed.

As a consumer, you should never feel pressured to make a hasty decision. Before you sign up for anything, check the company’s complaint record with Better Business Bureau, your state Attorney General, local consumer officials and other sources.

Ask your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers for references of their home alarm companies. Then comparison shop by getting estimates from several companies, noting which services are provided by each one. Be sure you understand who will perform the installation and monitoring, what is the installation price and monthly monitoring fee, and how long the contract period is.

And find out whether there will be an early termination fee if you need to move or no longer want the system.

For more tips on safely buying a home alarm system, check out the FTC’s consumer advice.

- The ABC News Fixer

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.