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Scam Alert

An Alarm System You Don't Need

How to arm yourself against crooked home security reps and their high-pressure tactics

Summer means open windows, vacations — and more home burglaries. It's also the time when people come knocking on your door to warn about the danger and try to sell you an alarm system.

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Window break in security system scam

Home security scam may leave your wallet broken. — Fotosearch

Some are not salespeople at all. They're just impersonators trying to find out about any existing alarm system you have. They may ask to come inside to inspect your home. What they're really doing is casing it for a possible burglary.

But some of the real alarm salespeople who will visit millions of homes this summer are thieves as well. They will target you with high-pressure pitches, scare tactics or outright lies to try to persuade you to sign up.

One common ploy is known as "slamming": The salesperson falsely tells you that your current alarm company has gone out of business and has passed your account on to another firm. (Guess whose?) Fall for this one and you can be saddled with double billing, higher service fees and hassles when you wise up and try to cancel the new provider.

A sales rep told Minnesotan Mary Jackson, 88, that her existing provider had gone belly-up, then pressured her into signing a contract with a new company. "The man just walked into my home and put in a new box before I could do anything," she recalls. "He was very pushy."

When she learned that her old company was still in business, she tried to cancel the new service — and was told she'd need to pay $3,000 to do that.

In the past three years, Utah-based Pinnacle Security has been sued by the attorneys general of at least four states — Illinois, New York, Ohio and most recently, Missouri. The legal actions involve claims by its door-to-door salesmen that competitors have gone under or merged with Pinnacle. Security alarm giant ADT is also suing Pinnacle for such claims.

"Historically, there have been challenges, there have been problems. But that is not indicative of who we are today," says Pinnacle spokesman Stuart Dean. He declined to comment on the most recent action against his company, fraud claims by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster in May. "It's under review by our legal team," Dean says.

Signs of a swindle

Besides slamming, sales agents can have other tricks up their sleeves.

These include touting the latest and greatest options — remote controls and smartphone apps — without revealing that they cost extra.

Or agents may offer "free" equipment, sometimes in exchange for allowing a company sign on your front lawn. The swindle typically involves a long-term monitoring contract that can cost hundreds of dollars per month, compared with the $20 to $50 typically charged by legitimate companies.

Next: How to protect yourself. >>

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