Elderly woman charged for defunct security service

April 21, 2010 7:02:05 PM PDT
A lot of people find it reassuring to have an alarm system at home, especially folks who live alone. That was certainly the case for one elderly woman, but she was stunned to find out she really wasn't protected at all.

Virginia Von Colditz, who lives alone, was paying for an alarm system managing on her own. She found out at the worst possible time that her alarm did not even work.

The 91-year-old is twice widowed. Her kids are grown and gone. Now, she lives in a big house alone, except for one little guy named Fred.

"He barks and he sounds pretty fierce for a little fluff-ball," she says.

Fred keeps her company and his sharp little bark can be intimidating, but Virginia doesn't rely on him for protection. Instead, she's had an All Guard Home Security system for the past 25 years. She felt pretty secure until the day she actually needed it.

"I fell down in the bathroom," she says. "I figured if I couldn't get up, I could crawl."

Virginia was reaching for a space heater when she tumbled to the floor. She was dazed and bruised but she managed to reach her All Guard "panic button" and pushed it for help.

"But, nobody came at all and I didn't hear anything," she says. "It was rather upsetting to have had it for so long and when I needed it, it didn't work."

Virginia recovered enough to call All Guard and find out why no one ever responded. That's when she found out something pretty upsetting. All Guard said her system had not been working since September 2009.

"I said, 'How are you supposed to know I need you?' and they said, 'You're supposed to call every month,'" she recalled.

Not only that, the company had been taking $29 per month out of her bank account in automatic payments while the system wasn't operating. Also when Virginia canceled her contract All Guard continued billing her, saying her contract runs through July and she had to pay.

"There are certain disadvantages to white hair and a cane," Virginia says. "It's just money, money, money, not right or wrong."

Virginia called 7 On Your Side and we contacted All Guard. Owner Denis Cooke got right back with us. He said Virginia's system actually stopped sending a signal back in October. The company tried to reach Virginia to arrange a service call to locate the problem, but did not hear back from her.

However, Cooke acknowledged that there were only two calls made to Virginia's home during the past six months. Each time a message was left on her answering machine. Virginia says she did not receive them.

Cooke says, "We should have handled this situation better and we made a mistake. We probably should have called every day that we were not receiving a signal."

He says the matter came to his attention after 7 On Your Side got involved. All Guard not only stopped billing Virginia, but Cooke said he would refund her the payments she made during the time her alarm wasn't working.

"Wonderful. Two days later they took away the bill," Virginia says. "It was, I thought, wonderful. It was the first time anything seemed to go right."

All Guard has a very good A-rating with the Better Business Bureau, and the owner told 7 On Your Side Virginia's situation is very rare.

However, as a result of what happened, All Guard is now making it a policy to contact customers every day if their systems are not working, until it's corrected.


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