DCA Sounds the Alarm on Fraudulent Alarm System Company Practices

They are out there, and they may be knocking on your door soon. During this time of year there is usually an upswing in alarm companies sending out their employees to canvass neighborhoods, trying to sell alarm systems. While selling alarm systems door-to-door is legal if required permits and licenses are in place, there are some unscrupulous companies that have their agents use tactics that violate the law, which can result in consumers paying excessive costs for alarm services or entering into a new alarm contract for what they believe involved an upgrade to the alarm system on their current alarm contract.
Here are some tips DCA’s Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) wants you to know:

Sales agents must be licensed
BSIS licenses and regulates alarm companies and their employees, alarm agents. Alarm agents sell, install, and service alarm systems at homes and businesses. They must carry proof of licensure and present it when asked.

Verify the license and check the company
Before doing business with any door-to-door alarm company salesperson, ask to see their BSIS Alarm Agent Permit to confirm that individual is currently licensed.

If the salesperson claims to be there to update your current alarm system, also ask for proof of the name of the company he or she works for and the company’s BSIS alarm company license number. You should verify the sales agent’s license and, if applicable, the alarm company’s license using the “License Search” button at www.bsis.ca.gov.

Read the contract before you sign  
Before the work to install any alarm system begins, a copy of the full contract signed by an agent of the alarm company must be provided to the consumer. Alarm company contracts must be in writing and must include the following information:

  • The alarm company’s name, business address, telephone number, and BSIS alarm company license number.
  • The alarm agent’s BSIS registration number if an agent solicited or negotiated the contract.
  • The approximate dates your scheduled work will begin and be substantially completed.
  • A description of the alarm system to be installed, including what work is necessary to install the system, the materials that will be used for installation, and the cost of the system and services.
  • A description of other services (e.g., alarm system response or monitoring services) to be provided by the alarm company after installation of the alarm.
  • A clause stating the alarm company will teach the buyer how to properly use the system after it is installed.

If the total value of the contract exceeds $250, it must also include a schedule of payments and information about the permit fees charged by local governments. (NOTE: A down payment may not exceed $1,000 or 10 percent of the contract price, excluding finance charges—whichever is less.) The contract must also disclose if monitoring services are being provided. Also, never sign a blank contract.

The Federal Trade Commission’s “Cooling-Off Rule” gives you three business days to cancel the deal if you sign the contract in your home or at a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business. You don’t have to give a reason.

Beware the automatic renewal
Alarm system monitoring contracts may contain an automatic renewal clause that binds a consumer to the contract for an extended period after the expiration of the initial contract term unless the consumer cancels the contract as specifically outlined in the contract. Effective January 1, 2017, consumers must be provided a written notice if the alarm contract presented to them includes an automatic renewal provision that renews the contract for a period of more than one month. Prior to signing the contract, the consumer is to acknowledge receipt of the disclosure by signing or initialing it. If written acknowledgement is not obtained from the consumer, the automatic renewal provision in the contract is invalid.

Don’t be pressured
If you’re not interested, say so. If the salesperson won’t leave, call the police.

If you are interested in an alarm system, ask for referrals from friends and family members who have had successful experiences with an alarm company. Also, get an estimate from more than one BSIS-licensed alarm company.

The BSIS “Consumer Guide to Alarm Companies” details important information about alarm companies and their employees, purchasing an alarm system and/or alarm system monitoring services, and how to file a complaint against an alarm company or one of its employees.

To file a complaint against an alarm company or an alarm agent with BSIS, visit www.bsis.ca.gov or call (800) 952-5210.

DCA is Here to Help All Year Long

Just because National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) has ended doesn’t mean you aren’t protected. As #NCPW2017 wraps up, DCA wants to remind consumers that our resources and programs are available any time of year. This past week, we’ve shared details on many of them.

An informed consumer is a protected consumer: consider yourself empowered! Learn more at www.dca.ca.gov.

Also, see our complete list of free publications at www.dca.ca.gov/publications/publications_list.shtml, subscribe to our award-winning magazine, Consumer Connection, and follow us on Facebook and on Twitter @DCAnews.

Weighing Out Diet Scams

weight-lossThe first month of 2017 is almost history, but a few of the resolutions you may have put on the list for this year may still not be crossed off—or started, for that matter. Getting more organized and saving money are goals that are easy to plan, while losing weight—a resolution that is at the top of many people’s lists—is one of the hardest to start.

Losing weight is a healthy and rewarding goal, however, beware of quick-fix weight-loss products and plans. Like other scams, if they sound too good to be true, they probably are.

At best, “miracle” weight-loss products won’t help at all and will only cause you to lose money. At worst, they can cause health issues. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that hundreds of dietary supplement products contain hidden active ingredients that may be advertised as “natural” and “safe.” As a result, the FDA has received numerous reports of increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, stroke, seizure, and even death as a result of taking these supplements.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), beware of weight-loss ads with tag lines like these:

  • Lose weight without diet or exercise!
  • Lose weight no matter how much you eat of your favorite foods!
  • Lose weight permanently! Never diet again!
  • Just take a pill!
  • Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!
  • Everybody will lose weight!
  • Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream!

The FTC says the best way to lose weight is to cut about 500 calories per day, eat a variety of healthy foods, and exercise regularly. Also, before beginning any weight-loss plan, consult your healthcare professional. To check the status of a doctor’s license, visit the Medical Board of California website at www.mbc.ca.gov.

The Rain is Back—So are the Cons

GUERNEVILLE, CA - JANUARY 11: A resident paddles his kayak through floodwaters in Guerneville. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

GUERNEVILLE, CA – JANUARY 11: A resident paddles his kayak through floodwaters in Guerneville. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California had a weather event last week. And whatever the forecasters called it—Atmospheric River, Pineapple Express, La Niña—it meant that a lot of water came crashing down on California, causing floods, mudslides, avalanches, and other water-related havoc on a state that has, in the past 5 years, experienced historically low levels of precipitation.

And just when homeowners are starting to see things dry up a bit, the rain is back again this week to serve up another round of chaos.

Don’t get Californians wrong—we are grateful that the drought may be over.

Unfortunately, there are others who are grateful for the weather for another reason—they wait for disasters like this to con homeowners into giving them money. They promise a quick solution to help disaster victims clean up, then take the money and run.

A tree lands on a house in Forestville on January 9. (Photo: ABC7/Laura Anthony)

A tree lands on a house in Forestville on January 9. (Photo: ABC7/Laura Anthony)

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is warning homeowners not to take the bait. Check a contractor’s license number online at www.cslb.ca.gov or by calling (800) 321-CSLB (2752). Here are a few tips from CSLB to help keep you out of a scam:

  • Get at least three bids.
  • Make sure all project expectations are in writing and only sign the contract if you completely understand the terms. Never sign a blank contract!
  • Confirm that the contractor has workers’ compensation insurance for employees.
  • Never pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less. Don’t pay in cash.
  • Don’t let payments get ahead of the work.
  • Don’t make the final payment until you’re satisfied with the job.
  • Your contractor must notify you of your right to cancel within three days of signing a contract

There is another group of criminals posing as door-to-door home repair contractors who operate all year long. These scammers, which CSLB refers to as“traveling contractors,” rip off homeowners with painting, paving, and roofing scams. Fortunately for consumers, they are usually easy to spot—if you know what to look for. Check out CSLB’s Traveling Contractor Scams tip sheet for a list of red flags.

Another thing to remember: If you’re going through your insurance provider for repairs, the provider may require that you use a certain contractor, so make sure to call first and find out.

Two New Publications from the California Bureau of Real Estate

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The California Bureau of Real Estate has two new publications available on its website, http://www.calbre.ca.gov: the Quick Guide for Tenants Renting a Home and the Quick Guide for Landlords Hiring a Property Manager.

The guides feature important questions to ask for potential tenants and landlords seeking a property manager, as well as information on contracts, resources for research, and possible red flags tenants and landlords should be aware of to avoid being a victim of fraud.

Take a look!

California Bureau of Real Estate Issues Valuable Tips for Seniors on how to Avoid Becoming Victims of Real Estate Fraud

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Those who commit fraud often target and exploit senior citizens. According to the FBI, the reason they do is because senior citizens are most likely to have a sizeable “nest egg” that criminals can target, and seniors are typically seen as more trusting of others. Older Americans are also less likely to report fraud because they don’t know who to report it to and are often too ashamed at having been scammed. Sometimes they aren’t even aware they have been scammed.

The California Bureau of Real Estate recently issued an advisory directed at California seniors to offer them essential advice and tips on how to protect themselves from becoming victims of real estate fraud schemes, including those scams involving home loans, rentals, timeshares, and false or fictious deeds.   Check out the advisory here.