Investigation: Some Home Alarm Salesmen Accused of Underhanded Tactics

 

The ABC News program 20/20 is airing an in-depth story on the issue of deceptive sales practices in the alarm industry and how companies like ADT are leading the charge in the fight to stop them.

For many years, the unscrupulous tactics of some door-to-door salesmen have been a blight on the alarm industry. It’s not uncommon to read stories about fly-by-night “trunk slammers,” as they are commonly referred to, that mislead or outright lie to homeowners to get them to either switch their monitoring provider or make unnecessary equipment upgrades. Recently, however, the alarm industry has started to fight back against these scammers and at 10 p.m. ET tonight, the ABC News program 20/20 will air an in-depth story on the issue and how companies like ADT are leading the charge.

“The main thing that we are trying to do as an industry, and we’ve got a lot of help from ESA and some of the other industry associations, is just raising awareness,” said ADT General Counsel David Bleisch, who was interviewed for the 20/20 story. “I think if consumers are aware that if somebody knocks on their door, they could be someone other than who they claim to be, but if they ask the right questions, they won’t be duped and that will take the profit out of this and the incentive to try and dupe people.”

According to Bleisch, the company has seen strong anecdotal evidence that its efforts to raise awareness have been successful as he said they have received more reports from people who were able to see through scams than those who were actually deceived. Earlier this year, ADT announced an initiative in which it would offer an award of up to $25,000 to anyone who could provide evidence that a company is training its sales team members to be deceitful in their sales practices.

“We did receive some, I would say, interesting information. We received a couple of video tapes that we are still evaluating and I would say the program, from our point of view, was successful in both getting some information and in serving the purpose of raising awareness on the topic,” Bleisch added. “The program is over for the year and we are evaluating whether we should do the same thing or something a little bit different next year.”

Just last year, ADT obtained a permanent injunction and received damages from two companies who they claimed misled ADT customers to believe that they were affiliated with them and that their alarm systems required upgrading. Bleisch said some of the most common practices used by con artists include not only lying about which alarm company they’re affiliated with, but also telling consumers things such as ADT has gone out of business, entered bankruptcy or even that their firm has taken over ADT.

“What we’ve seen most recently is the misuse of security equipment brand names such as GE,” explained Bleisch. “People will say, ‘I’m with GE Security, we provided the equipment that is in your house and we want you to switch monitoring companies from ADT to somebody else.’ That (type of scam) has become more prevalent I would say over the last year than it was in prior years.”

While he is hopeful that the steps the company has taken will help curb deceptive sales practices, Bleisch said that to repair the industry’s reputation when it comes to door-to-door sales will really fall on reputable alarm dealers to follow the ESA’s guidelines and making sure they accurately identify themselves at the door.

“Each company, including ours, that has dealer networks needs to make sure that their dealers are well trained and know they are required to follow these (ESA) code of conduct standards and companies won’t show any tolerance for those dealers that aren’t doing that,” said Bleisch. “There is a lot of work to do. I think that a lot of companies are trying to be more proactive in this space. They realize that it is not good for the industry and it is not good for any security company on the whole, so my feeling is there is a lot more being done.”

Additionally, Bleisch said they also want to educate more law enforcement authorities about the importance of this issue so that some scammers will actually be put behind bars.

“In our discussions with law enforcement agencies, a lot of them were not even aware of this scam and how it can impact the people in their neighborhoods,” said Bleisch. “We’re hopeful that when people do call to complain and say, ‘somebody just told me they are with my security company and I found out they are not,’ that they will quickly respond and take action because that doorknocker is off knocking on other doors in the same neighborhood.”

Ultimately, Bleisch hopes that the airing of this story on national television will raise even more awareness about some of these dishonest sales tactics.

“We’re really hopeful that this will continue to raise consumer awareness,” said Bleisch. “The people that are being scammed have let us know and we want to let people who haven’t been scammed know that this could happen to them. And we’re hopeful that it will continue to create a buzz among people to be aware if somebody knocks on their door that they need to verify the person at the door is who they say they are and represent who they claim to represent.”

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