Alarming contract dispute with home security system raises red flags

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SPARTANBURG COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – A survey by the Consumer Federation of America finds the number of complaints against home security companies is growing concern.

When a 7News viewer called us asking for help getting a home security company to stop taking money out of her bank account we looked into it.

We found out her complaint is one of more than four thousand against the company Vivint Smart Home Security.

Jean Willard will never forget the night some teenagers cherry-bombed her house.

“Scared the bee gees out of me, me and Bubba ran to the bathroom,” she said with her dog nearby.

So when a salesman with Vivint Smart Home Security showed up offering to wave the cost of equipment, she was thrilled.

“It’s free, and he kept saying yes mam it’s free. And I said nobody gives anything for free.  He said well we’re trying to help the elderly.  I said well, come on in,” said Willard.

The man installed door sensors and a touch screen panel and asked her to sign so he could get paid. 

But when the panel broke years later, that when the alarm really sounded.  Willard tried to cancel the service and was told she had actually signed a 5 year contract.

Enter Richard Klopfenstein, her neighbor of 25 years.

“I have trouble with somebody taking advantage of somebody,” said Klopfenstein.    

Klopfenstein filed complaints with several consumer agencies, and learned from the Better Business Bureau, nearly 4,500 others had done the same in the last 3 years.

“So then I thought well, my only other option is to call, I’m going to send it to WSPA,” said Klopfenstein.

Vivint was unable to provide 7News Willard’s contract, saying it had changed its system in 2014 and the contract may be with an escrow agency.

The company went on to say:

“Before we install any equipment in a customer’s home, our account creation team completes a verbal pre-install survey with each customer confirming the length, monthly payment amount, payment method and other details of the agreement. We also complete a post-install verbal survey confirming that the customer received the correct equipment and has a copy of the contract. In both of these calls, Jean confirms that she understands the terms and that she has a copy of the contract. We have been providing continuous service for her account since her initial installation.”
 
Willard says the technician did have her sign something, but she was told it was to make sure he got paid.  She says she never thought she was signing a contract.

Consumer Federation of America cautions, door to door sales people will often try to get you to sign an electronic contract on a small device.  You should avoid that.  

7News asked Vivint to send us the type of contract that Willard would have signed, which it did.  The contract had such small print. It’s hard to see even with a magnifying glass.

The company told us “We no longer offer the same contract option” where you pay off equipment over several years. Today, Vivint sells equipment and services “upfront” or with a separate loan.  Vivint says this should cut down on contract complaints. 

Vivint canceled Willard’s service and sent her a hefty check. 

“You have to say one thing about them, they did keep their word,” said Klopfenstein. 

To Willard, the real value was the kindness of a neighbor, simply willing to help.  

“I’m so grateful it’s just wonderful,” said Willard.

Many customers don’t fully understand what they are getting into especially when it comes to automatic renewals that are hard to cancel.

Consumer advocates warn avoid these home security company warning signs:

– Scare tactics that claim your neighborhood is unsafe or there has been an uptick in crime.  Confirm that with local law enforcement.
– Door to door salesmen who try to convince you they are with your current home security company and are upgrading the system.
– Salesmen who try to get you to sign without reviewing a written contract.
– Automatic renewals that make it difficult to cancel

Read a sample of the contract below:

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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