A young man came to my house today and said he was from Honeywell-GE. He claimed he was in the neighborhood to replace batteries in residential security systems that were manufactured by his employer. He was carrying what appeared to be an iPad although it was inside a rather heavy duty case, similar to what I have seen before when carried by cable TV installers, telephone company employees, and others.
I was suspicious immediately but agreed to show him my alarm system control panel inside the house.
NOTE: In hindsight, that was dumb. I should never have allowed him inside the house.
Upon seeing my alarm system control panel, he immediately said “that’s a very old one” and he offered to replace it at no charge with something more modern and secure. He said the new system would not use the phone lines like the old one but would instead communicate with satellites directly. He said it had a new SIM card for use with satellites.
There were several problems with his story:
1. My control panel is not “an old one.” I installed it myself two years ago and I know intimately how it works.
2. My alarm system does not communicate with the monitoring system via telephone lines. Instead, it communicates by wireless cell phone signals. (See my earlier article at https://privacyblog.com/2014/11/06/why-you-want-a-do-it-yourself-home-security-system/. In fact, I don’t even have a telephone line connected to my house.) If he was sent by Honeywell-GE to replace control panels, I would expect him to recognize what kind of a system I presently have installed.
3. While he stated he worked for Honeywell-GE, he wanted to replace what he called the ADT control panel. When I told him it was not an ADT control panel (it has another company’s name on the front), he claimed “Honeywell-GE manufactures control panels for all the other companies.” Regardless of the label on the outside, he claimed it was manufactured by Honeywell-GE. (He may or may not have been correct on that claim but I never heard of a manufacturer sending out their own employees to replace systems sold by other companies. Manufacturers normally have their dealers and partners do the work and absorb the costs. In any case, no company should ever show up at the door unannounced. They would call first to make an appointment.)
4. He claimed the new system would communicate directly with satellite with its SIM card. Excuse me, but I am a (retired) electronics technician with 40+ years of experience in radio systems and other electronics. I know that satellite phones and other devices that communicate with satellites do not have SIM cards.
5. Now the kicker: he said he was a Honeywell-GE employee and he was wearing what looked like an employee badge. I didn’t see the badge up close but I did see the logo. I was a Honeywell employee for 23 years and carried an employee badge all that time. The logo on his badge was not a Honeywell logo. I have also seen GE employee badges hundreds of times and his was not a GE logo.
I declined to have him replace the control panel until I verified with my alarm monitoring company that they approved the change. The man said “Thank you” and left my house quickly.
OK, here’s the part you need to be aware of: a Google search shows a lot of reports of similar scams. One that caught my eye is a video of a newscast from a Miami television station at http://goo.gl/Etajqa. A Google search for alarm system scam will produce several more results.
I did call 911 and a police officer visited my home soon after to record the information. I was able to provide a description of the man and of the automobile he was driving. Unfortunately, I never got close enough to see the license plate number.
Here’s what you need to remember:
The reports online claim there are two different versions of this scam:
1. The visitor probably noted the insides of the house, looking for anything valuable that can easily be sold. He probably wanted to replace the present alarm system control panel with a new one that includes a pocket-sized remote control. The remote can enable or disable the alarm within a radius of 50 feet, possibly further, even from outside the house. Of course, he would keep the remote and not give it to the homeowner. At a later date, burglars will visit the home and disable the alarm system by using the remote while in the driveway.
2. After replacing the alarm system control panel, the person will ask the homeowner to sign a “receipt” that has a lot of legal language printed in a small font. The language states that the homeowner agrees to switch the alarm monitoring service to another company, possibly at a higher price, including a five-year non-cancelable contract.
If someone shows up at your home without a previously-arranged appointment, whether for an alarm system or for any other purpose, BE AWARE! My suggestion is to not let him in, regardless of his claims. (I wasn’t smart enough to do that.) Another method is to call his office to verify his employment and reason for visiting but never, ever call a telephone number supplied by the visitor. You might be calling his accomplice!