It’s become a universal truth: if you’re in business, you can’t hide from the Internet. More people are posting reviews and comments, and more people are reading them than ever before. Some of this on-line narrative is understandably suspect: one can usually spot the transparent “hyping” of a product or service, usually by an employee under false pretenses. Just as common are false complaints that are never substantiated – and these can be frustrating for companies who understand how important a “virtual reputation” can be. But in general, you can trust the great majority of what you read.
And speaking of on-line negative news, I just read a complaint about ADT posted on The Consumerist that addresses a common theme in the alarm industry: the subscriber monitoring agreement, often referred to as the alarm contract. For those not familiar with The Consumerist, it’s published in partnership with Consumer Reports: their tag line is “Shoppers Bite Back,” which gives you an idea what the posts (and associated comments) are like. Here are some excerpts on this matter.
I am writing to warn your readers about ADT home security systems as well as seek advice about how to handle my own situation. I signed up with ADT a while back. A representative came to my house to set up the system and have me sign a contract. The monitoring equipment was in place from the previous home owner. We needed to sign the service contract and were somewhat apprehensive because it was long and detailed and the representative did not give us a chance to read it, instead pointing to the various sections of text saying things like, “this says that if there’s a false alarm, you’re subject to a fee …”
Take Your Time – It’s Your Money
Always take the time you need to read a contract, regardless of the pressure that salespeople apply. The summer “door knockers” are notorious for playing fast and loose with contract details so you’ll sign in a hurry. The best alarm companies (like FrontPoint) actually give you a full 30 days to return the system for a full refund, no questions asked. Most alarm companies give you only three days, and many make it as tough as possible to undo the purchase. And FrontPoint even pays for return shipping. Now back to ADT.
With Some Companies, Only Believe What’s on Paper
As he was explaining the agreement to us, I asked if this was a long term contract. My husband and I were both in transitional times with work and knew moving wasn’t out of the question. The representative assured us that we were under no obligation and that we could cancel at any time without penalty. He said it takes about 30 days for the service to be discontinued and we’d probably end up paying for one more month of service than we needed if we didn’t cancel in time.
This is one of the great lies of the industry, that you can cancel any time. Because alarm companies generally lose money upfront on discounted equipment, they need the long term agreement in place to protect their investment in the customer: it’s just not right to misrepresent that fact.
The Truth Can Hurt
Turns out, we did need to move last month. Late last week, I called ADT to cancel. To my astonishment, the ADT operator told me I would be billed for almost $1,000—75 percent of my remaining multi-year contract. I couldn’t believe it. I told her I did not sign a multiyear contact and she assured me that I did. I Googled this issue and saw that this seems to a common practice with ADT representatives. They come to your home and flat-out lie about the contents on the contract. Googling “ADT lied” turns up this story over and over again.
You should read the full post on The Consumerist for what happened next. Suffice to say, it was a sad story of frustration and disappointment trying to get the company to honor the salesperson’s word. And that reminds me – here’s a link to my post on alarm agreements from last November, where I covered a lot of these points in detail.
It’s almost as if the contract was written knowing that the content of representatives’ sales pitch was going to conflict with what is actually in the agreement. I realize I should have gotten out the magnifying glass, made the ADT representative a sandwich, and asked him to hold on and be quite for an hour while I read the agreement line by line. Not doing that was not a good idea. But we were under not-so-subtle pressure to just sign the thing and trust that we were being told the truth about what we were signing. What I did was not circumspect, but what ADT has done was calculated, willfully deceptive and grossly unethical.
What You Can Do
I just want to urge everyone to read everything they sign in detail and never trust anyone when they seem to be explaining what you are signing. We are asked to read and sign so much, from web site terms of service to Facebook privacy settings to cell phone agreements it’s too easy to let your guard down just long enough for a corporation to take advantage of you. And finally, I’d like to urge anyone who needs a security system to go with a company other than ADT because their business practices are extremely shady.
At FrontPoint, we’ve worked very to be a flexible partner in protecting your home and family, and to make our monitoring agreement as balanced and easy to understand as possible: one example is our 30-day risk-free trial – the best in the industry. We also offer variable term options for initial agreement of one, two, or three years. Even so, we still get questions, and are happy to answer each and every one. On-line shoppers quickly learn why we are the nationwide leader in interactive, wireless home security: our long list of five-star reviews spells out very clearly why we’re the #1 ranked alarm company in the US. Being on top means we have to prove ourselves in every aspect of our business – right down to the language of the monitoring agreement.