SOUTHAVEN, MS (WMC) - Mississippi legislators may consider tougher restrictions on door-to-door home alarm salespeople after a deceptive solicitation in Southaven.
According to her complaint filed with the Mississippi Attorney General's Office, Bessie Havens heard a knock on her garage-access door the evening of August 14. A GHS Interactive Security salesperson, with no personal or company identification according to the complaint, weaseled his way into the 86-year-old's home after seeing a Vivint, Inc., home security sign in her yard.
"He was aggressive, really pushy," Havens said.
"He says, 'Ma'am, I see you have a Vivint alarm system, and I was wondering what kind of panel you have on the wall,'" said Havens' daughter Pam Miller. "This was at 8:00, 7:00 at night when it's dark. First, I'm not happy that he came to her back door."
Then they said the guy came at Havens with back-door tactics. "He starts telling me how much better they are," Havens recounted. "I said, 'I'll have to talk to Vivint first,' and he says, "No, you don't have to talk to Vivint. I've already canceled your contract with them.'"
Since he explained her Vivint alarm contract was canceled, Havens paid GHS's salesperson $40.99 to install a GHS alarm system and rip out her Vivint system. But when she followed up with Vivint, she discovered her Vivint contract was still active. GHS's salesperson never canceled the contract. He couldn't. Only Havens, as the customer, could cancel it.
"He lied to me," she said.
Havens ended up paying for two alarm systems at the same time because an aggressive, unidentified alarm system solicitor got a vulnerable 86-year-old woman to open the door. "I can't believe the gall of just to open the door and come in her home like that," Miller said.
Mississippi mandates that all alarm system contractors doing business in the state must carry a license through the Mississippi Electronic Systems Protection Board. But the Magnolia State's home solicitation law fails to regulate the conduct of alarm system door-to-door solicitors. It does not require that they show their state alarm licenses, provide identification or proof of their companies' representation or registration. All the law mandates is a 3-day right of cancellation for any door-to-door sale. By that time, the solicitor -- real or fake -- will be long gone.
By contrast, the Tennessee Alarm Systems Contractors Board regulates alarm companies operating in Tennessee as a separate agency from the Tennessee Board of Licensing Contractors. The alarm board requires all alarm companies operating in Tennessee to carry an alarm contractor's license. It enforces written standards of conduct that require alarm system solicitors to carry their licenses, identification cards and proof of their companies' business registrations. The standards also prohibit them from soliciting homes with placards or signs indicating the homeowners do not wish to be solicited. "If you have a sign in your yard that says, 'I don't want to be solicited,' they can't solicit you," said Tennessee Alarm Contractors Board/Department of Commerce & Insurance Communications Director Kevin Walters.
The problem is that Vivint alarm sign in Havens' yard isn't considered a "no solicitation" sign under Mississippi statutes. In fact, that sign is the very reason GHS's salesperson knocked on her door after dark. "Our experience is that these signs are not necessarily indicative of a customer being actively protected," said GHS Interactive Security Principal Cindy Sullivan in an email. "So, yes, a salesperson would still make time to approach a home with an alarm sign and find out if the service, pricing and features they currently receive are to their liking."
After briefing him about what happened to Havens, Mississippi State Rep. Steve Hopkins, (R) Southaven, said he would draft a bill. The bill would mandate standards of conduct for Mississippi alarm solicitors that would be just like Tennessee's: an alarm contractor's license, ID card and proof of registration at the point of sale. Hopkins said the bill would also include a system to report pushy violators. "Where violations can be reported to the Public Service Commissioner in Mississippi, and after three violations, there could be penalties involved," he said.
"The sales representative who worked with Ms. Havens (was) an independent contractor working for an authorized dealer of GHS," continued Sullivan. "When we investigate and confirm problematic behaviors with contractors, we take appropriate action, up to and including termination of contract."
GHS canceled Havens' contract, reimbursed her first payment of $40.99 and restored her Vivint alarm system. "I was angry with myself for allowing (GHS to switch my service) because I should have been wiser," said Havens.
She should have researched Vivint, too. It has a C- rating with the Better Business Bureau. It's faced six separate government actions in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Utah, Wyoming, Texas and Missouri for deceptive practices. It's also racked up more complaints on file with the Tennessee Alarm Contractors Board than any other alarm company since 2011, the same year WMC Action News 5 investigated Vivint for aggressive door-to-door sales tactics.
""We've resolved all complaints with the Tennessee Alarm Contractors Board since 2011," said Vivint Director of Communications Liz Tanner in an email. "Vivint...trains all direct-to-home sales representatives to be polite and professional. (They) wear uniforms and have photo ID badges that homeowners can verify on our website."
ANDY'S ADVICE ON ALARM COMPANIES:
* Always check their service histories with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org/us), nationally and regionally.
* Check each company's license status with your state agency that has authority over alarm/security companies (below).
* In Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas, not only should the company be licensed, but also its technicians and sales personnel. They should carry card versions of those licenses and have them ready for inspection (lanyard, wallet, etc.).
* You should resist UNSOLICITED door-to-door sales from an alarm company unless you are the owner of a brand new home WITHOUT an active alarm contract.
You can link to the Tennessee Alarm Systems Contractors Board here.
In Mississippi, check with the Mississippi Electronic Protection Systems Board. You can file complaints against alarm companies with the Mississippi Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division. You can also check with the Mississippi Electronic Security Association to see if a company is a member.
In Arkansas, the Arkansas State Police regulates the licensing of alarm system contractors. You can also file complaints with the Arkansas Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division and check their memberships with the Arkansas Security Alarm Association.