Poll: Readers view door-to-door scams as major problem

Impassioned responses reveal just how much door-knocking scams rankle those in the industry
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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

YARMOUTH, Maine—Door-to-door scams were given a big stage at ESX 2014, where ADT held a press conference devoted to rooting the problem out, with representatives from law enforcement, CSAA and ESA weighing in.

Judging by the responses to the latest SSN News Poll, the issue has, without question, grabbed the industry’s attention, and given rise to some vociferous opinions regarding both the source of the problem and how it should be fixed.

“These door-to-door scams need to stop and should be against the law,” Randy Crews, of Atlas Security, said in a response. “They are leaving a black eye on the industry.”

“Door-to-door scammers are no different than the very thieves this industry is trying to protect against and they need to be treated like the criminals they are,” said another reader, who was among the 82 percent of poll respondents who believe the scams are very problematic.

To correct the problem, respondents prescribed a diverse array of measures that need to be taken, ranging from minor tweaks to more radical revisions to the entire door-knocking model. 

Most respondents implied that the issue is less a systemic problem at certain companies than a result of a few bad actors, unethical, rogue salesmen intent on doing whatever it takes to get a sale. Owing to how hard the problem can be to identify, some readers were not so optimistic about the problem being rectified in short time.

“I believe it is going to take something disastrous happening to get this issue pushed to the front of the line, i.e. a door knocker is hired without proper background and ends up attacking or killing someone,” Erik Haston, outside customer service manager at First Alarm, said. “If someone is taken in by these scammers, the bad thing happens, and a high-profile lawsuit results, people may sit up and take notice and begin to implement change.”

Of course, in the eyes of some, the problem of alarm scams is longstanding and widespread, and it encompasses more than just unscrupulous door-knocking salesmen posing as reps from a major brand companies.

Detective H.W. “Robbie” Robinson of the Phoenix Police Code Enforcement Unit, Alarm Inspections, said the Phoenix Police Department frequently receives calls from citizens complaining about contracts they’d already signed and wanted to get out of, after realizing they’d been duped. To combat the issue, the department sends out an annual newsletter cautioning alarm permit holders in Phoenix about the latest scam tactics.

Interestingly enough, door-knocking scams aren’t the only problem, Robinson said. The Phoenix Police Department has been involved in a couple of investigations connected to “alarm flipping,” a collusion scheme in which “friendly” alarm companies aligned with different dealer programs rotate customer lists just before the initial contract ends. Dealers, Robinson said, figured out they could get paid without having to install new equipment.

“I think that the industry needs to take a hard look at the sales tactics of the dealer programs that created the incentive for unscrupulous individuals to flip contracts,” he said.

Others said the industry has to do a better job of policing itself and ensuring that, as Robert Collins, president of AmeriSafe Alarms put it, companies are “protecting our clients from crooks, not participating in crookedness ourselves.”

Collins believes certain business norms in the industry give rise to conflicts of interest and tempt some to engage in fraudulent practices.

“When these reps are paid by the sale, the only incentive that they have is to make sales, fast,” Collins said. “This is the natural progression of conduct in an industry that doesn’t police itself as well as it could or should. People who are predisposed to dishonesty or committing fraud or conning people are attracted by the lack of background investigation, oversight and strict ethics and sales practices.”

He added: “No sales manager is going to complain about how sales were made, so long as they sales are being made. And they sure aren’t going to punish top producers, even if they’re guilty of misconduct.”

Several readers suggested mentioned that better regulation or stricter licensing requirements could help address the problem.

“Summer door-to-door sales reps should be individually licensed for the state they are working in, have proper identification and have a solicitation permit in hand,” Osvaldo Padilla of Piscataway, N.J.-based Metro Alarm & Security, remarked. “Summer sales reps that have come through my neighborhood know nothing about security. They are for the most part college students who are looking to make as much money within the shortest amount of time.”

Eddie Buckley of Certified Alarm Co., based in Sheffield, Ala., has long held the belief that door knocking as a sales strategy sullies public perception of the industry at large.

“My opinion has not changed,” he said. “Door-to-door sales is bad for the customer and bad for our industry. The ESA should develop a code of ethics or post a proclamation of non-support of door-to-door sales.”

Rick Kramer, security products account manager at Mountain West Distributors, believes most door-to-door reps do a good job, and said that if the large companies stopped “raising the monthly without adding more equipment or newer equipment, it would significantly decrease the potential for these scams.”

Not all were convinced only smaller companies were to blame. Some readers, in fact, said it was just the opposite.  

“The worst offenders are the large companies,” one reader noted. “Smaller local companies emulating the ‘big boys’ can be neutered by strong local legitimate companies. But the out-of-control practices of the national companies and their sheer numbers make it impossible to control. Expecting these companies to abide by a code of ethics, when they have no ethics to begin with, is wishful thinking.”

Bart Williams of Starkville, Miss.-based Security Solutions agreed: “There are large companies that are engaging in unethical, immoral and downright illegal practices,” he said, adding: “This is wrong and people should be held accountable.”

Comments

Door to door selling is probably the oldest method of selling. The problem as I see it, is that many companies hire temporary help. It took me a full year of working 60 hours a week to get a basic understanding of the products I was selling. You can't truly be helpful to a client until you know the product, it's limitations and abilities. As a full time sales representative, I am looking for customer referrals, which I get by being professional and delivering as promised. I sell door to door but integrity is a trait that I value.