Has the door-to-door alarm salesman knocked on your door? If not, he’s probably coming. He will try to sweet-talk you into an alarm system that, if you agree to it, you better love. Why? You’re going to have it for a long time.
Many contracts last from 39 to 60 months. And unlike with a wireless phone or electricity contract, you can’t buy your way out with a few hundred dollars.
Two months later, his life turned upside down when he learned that his wife wanted a divorce. He moved out of the house. But when he called Pinnacle Security and asked how much it would cost to get out of his contract, he was told he has to pay the $40 monthly fee for the entire 39 months. Pinnacle offered to transfer the account to another address, but he can’t because he’s staying with relatives.
Pinnacle said he could try to get the current resident, his ex-wife, to take over the contract. He couldn’t do that, either.
Contract disputes make up a quarter of the 836 complaints filed against Pinnacle in the last three years with the Better Business Bureau. Billing, sales practices and refund issues constitute much of the rest. The company has a BBB rating of F.
In August, the Orem, Utah-based company was cited by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection for telling customers that they could cancel at any time when they couldn’t, that their existing alarm companies had gone out of business or that they were representing the customer’s own alarm company when they weren’t.
The salesmen also told consumers about a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood to scare them, Utah authorities charged.
A hearing on the citation is scheduled for Oct. 20. You can read the Utah government’s Aug. 29, 2009 administrative citation against Pinnacle Security exclusively on the Internet here.
The company also got into trouble in June when its sales staff implied to customers in Wichita, Kan., that a competing company had gone out of business when it hadn’t. Customers were told they needed to change their equipment and sign new contracts.
Travis Coleman, Pinnacle’s executive complaint supervisor, said the company is working to fix any problems.
If misconduct on the part of its sales staff is found, staffers are disciplined, fined or fired, he said. Disciplinary measures were taken after a company investigation into the Wichita incident, he said.
Pinnacle Security and a second Utah-based company, Platinum Protection of Provo, recruit as sales staffers former missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who have experience going door to door. This sales force is especially heavy in the summer months, when college students are working, but sales activity goes on year-round.
A year ago, a Platinum Protection salesperson visited Mary Lou Branson and sold her a home security system, complete with a panic button. She signed a 60-month contract for $43 a month.
In April, she accidentally pushed the button. What happened next was an inadvertent test of the system.
First, she heard a voice in her house, but she didn’t know it was an employee of the monitoring service talking to her through the alarm system’s box. She thought it was her answering machine, so she picked up the phone but nobody was there.
About four hours later, a man who said he worked for a guard dispatch company showed up to check on her. He said he had come to the corner earlier and looked at the house.
“Apparently, it looked OK, because he did nothing more,” she recalls. “He certainly did not come to the door and check to see if I was alive.” Under her contract, she said, the company is supposed to respond to alarms in a timely manner. “I could have been dead several times,” she said.
The man told her that Fort Worth’s alarm ordinance required that a private guard check before police are called. That’s not true for residential addresses, only for commercial accounts, the ordinance says.
Angry, Branson decided to complain to the company. Turns out she was signed up for private guard dispatch, but she didn’t want that. The company altered her account. She still wanted to cancel.
Michael Melzer, Platinum’s manager of legal affairs, wrote to her defending the company against her claim that it is incompetent. (Platinum has a B-plus rating from the BBB.) He also denied her request for cancellation, saying the company upheld its end of the contract.
Platinum has a cancellation fee that is roughly 80 percent of the balance owed on the contract.
When I interviewed a top company official, who asked that his name not be used because he did not work for the public relations department, he affirmed that the company did nothing wrong.
A day later, however, the company e-mailed me this statement:
“We were concerned when we learned of Mary Branson’s complaint. Like any complaint we receive, we have looked into the situation. Although we understand that Ms. Branson’s situation is unique, we have honored her request to end her contract with Platinum Protection, and we will work to resolve the matter so we can continue to provide your community with the service and protection it deserves.”
The best tip is this: When an alarm salesman shows up at your door, ask to see his “pocket card” license. If you live in a state where these licenses are issued to door-to-door salesmen, that usually means they had to undergo a criminal background check. If the salesman doesn’t have one, he shouldn’t be there. Call the authorities.
What you can do
Customers who have a complaint about a Utah-based alarm sales company may file a complaint with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at www.consumerprotection.utah.gov. Or call 801-530-6601.