Free Home Security can be Expensive

FreeThere was a story last week in the Denver Post warning readers about signing up for a ‘free’ alarm system being sold door-to-door. The title of the article, “Security Scam should Alarm Homeowners” says it all.

The tactics mentioned in the article are no different than those used here in Vancouver. A company calls, either on the telephone or at the door, and tells you that they would like to use your home for advertising … they offer to ‘give’ you a free alarm system in return for you allowing them to place their lawn sign in your front yard.

Typically, the company actually making the pitch is a contracted sales agency, or authorized dealer, selling alarm accounts for a larger company.

Once you sign up, the fine print of the contract indicates that you have signed up for a 3 or 5 year monitoring agreement. In most cases, the company that made the sales call then sells that contract to ADT or another similar provider for a few hundred dollars.

If you try and cancel the contract before the termination, you face
stiff cancellation fees… typically the full balance owing on the
contract. On many such plans, the contract will automatically renew for another 3 year term unless
you have notified the company in writing during a short window of time
prior to the first term ending.

Once you factor in the cost of a 3 year monitoring agreement at around $30.00 a month, you can see that the ‘free’ system has actually cost you $1,080.00 … which might be ok if you were actually receiving any benefit for the monitoring that is supposed to happen. As I pointed out in a post last year titled “Why millions of home alarm systems are useless” most of the alarms installed do not offer any real security value whatsoever.

More recently, I wrote a post about why I think the alarm industry is a parasite on the Police and how I agreed with LAPD Chief Bratton that the alarm industry is an “unnecessary burden” on the Police. The proliferation of the ‘free’ alarm is a big part of the reason why alarm systems offer less deterrent value every day.

Unfortunately, most people only learn that not only did their “free alarm system” cost them over a thousand dollars, it is also providing virtually zero security value. Most often, this realization comes after a burglary when they are left wondering why the alarm had so little impact in minimizing their loss.

The recent series of Alarmforce radio ads that proudly exclaim that they will never send a salesperson to your door drive me crazy. Their pitch is basically that one size fits all and that all you need is their free alarm to protect your home. Just call them and they will send out an installer who will have the whole system installed within an hour. In fact, they go even further by saying that any security company that says that they need to send a salesperson to your home is just trying to rip you off.

I’m amazed that anyone could take that pitch seriously. But I also wouldn’t have thought that telling someone that you wanted to advertise in their front yard would also be an effective marketing gimmick.

Unfortunately, both seem to work.

I’ve discussed Alarmforce in previous posts (here, here and here for a sampling) and am of the opinion that the message that they send out is incredibly misleading and sells false hope, most often to those who can least afford it. Their ad bragging about not sending out someone to review your needs before selling you a system is truly ridiculous. I’m embarrassed for the entire security industry whenever I hear it.

Suggesting that everyone’s home or business can be treated the same way, with respect to designing a security system that will offer any meaningful detection, is irresponsible at best. Slapping in the cheapest possible ‘alarm’ equipment in order to somehow justify a monthly monitoring fee is a scam.

If you cannot afford to spend the money necessary to have a properly designed alarm system installed, don’t bother spending anything. Spend your money on physical security such as proper locks, stronger doors, bars, window film… pretty much anything else will offer better value.

Unless you live in the smallest of one-bedroom apartments, the ‘free’ home security system is a complete rip-off. An expensive one.

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