Consumers get faulty alarm systems

February 29, 2008 12:33:24 PM PST
7 On Your Side has been flooded with calls from Bay Area consumers who say they got duped by door-to-door salesmen who thought they were competing in a reality show. Michael Finney has been reporting about.

The contestants and now consumers say they fell for a lot of dishonest sales tactics. As one consumer put it, he got robbed by the very company that was supposed to protect "against" robbers.

It happened last summer. A young salesman appeared on the San Pablo doorstep of 81-year-old Anne Hatcher.

The salesman persuaded Anne to get rid of her perfectly good home security system and buy one from this company, Firstline Security of Utah.

"I didn't really want one, but I guess he brainwashed me," said Hatcher.

Within hours a Firstline team had torn out her old alarm and put a new one. Within weeks, a false alarm happened.

No one in Anne's family could shut it off -- Anne had to pull the plug. Even more troubling -- there was no response to the alarm.

No police rolling up to see what was wrong. It appeared no one was monitoring Anne's security system.

Worse still, Firstline never sent anyone to fix it.

"I said how would you feel if I got broke in and murdered or beat up or raped or whatever they do? She didn't have an answer for that one," said Hatcher.

Firstline salesmen and women had been at it all summer long, fueled by this pitch, inviting college students to star on a reality show. Win a million dollars. How? By selling Firstline home alarms, door to door.

ABC7's Michael Finney: "What were the sales techniques? Were they legit sales techniques?

"No, not really," said the group of salesmen.

"Over 15 people I set up were overcharged like three times as much, or it didn't' work or it would go off all the time," said Arizona State student Drew Cavner.

Not only that, they were taught to be unscrupulous, and were.

"Were you cheated?" asked Finney.

"Yes," said the group.

"Did you cheat people, lie to people?" asked Finney.

"Yes," said the group.

"Were you lied to," asked Finney.

"Yes," said the group.

"Did you lie to people," asked Finney.

"Yes," said the group.

"We were told to tell people that we were not salesman. And we were going to provide them a free home security system," said Arizona State student Colin Greenbauer.

That's sounds familiar to Teresa and Gary Harrelson of Rohnert Park.

"They were giving away this system for free, that it was a promotion to go thought he neighborhood and put their sign on our front yard," said Teresa Harrelson.

The Harrelsons went for it and problems started the first day.

"I got a call on my cell phone and they said we've had a medical emergency in your home and I just freaked out I'm like oh my gosh," said Teresa Harrelson.

The alarm had gone off while Gary was in the shower.

"I really imagined him like having a heart attack like laying on the ground having a heart attack," said Teresa Harrelson.

Teresa raced home to find Gary calmly watching TV. After four more false alarms, Teresa got fed up.

"I want out of this thing, I can't handle these emotions, I'm not going to do this every other day," said Teresa Harrelson.

Police said the next false alarm would cost the Harrelsons a $100 dollar fine.

But Firstline couldn't fix it, so Gary tore out the alarm himself. Now Firstline won't let the Harrelsons out of their contract.

Won't let Anne out of hers either.

Their stories were repeated over and over in dozens of complaints to 7 On Your Side.

On top of that, Firstline is in bankruptcy, its headquarters deserted. ABC7 Legal Analyst Dean Johnson says bankruptcy means consumers are stuck.

"For consumers in particular and employees of the company, those two groups are often left holding the bag," said ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson.

You can't file civil suits during a bankruptcy but dean has advice.

"If I were one of these consumers the first thing I would do is go to my consumer fraud unit of my local district attorney because the district attorney can pursue criminal and civil penalties," said Johnson.

Firstline bankruptcy attorney Adam Affleck said the company wants to make sure customers are satisfied. Customers should not have to pay for systems that don't work. The company will resolve the issues as part of the bankruptcy.

Although Firstline is in bankruptcy, it is staying in business while it tries to reorganize. And college students tell us Firstline recruiters are back on campus looking for sales people. So if you know college students you might want to send them a link to our reports.

To file a complaint against Firstline Security, see the links below:

  • File complaint with the Consumer Affairs Dept.
  • File complaint with the State Attorney General