Door knocking in Hawaii generates concerns

Alarm association warns residents of deceptive sales techniques, though no offending companies named
 - 
Thursday, June 30, 2011

HONOLULU—After hearing complaints that summer-sales-model companies in Hawaii this summer are using deceptive sales practices, the Hawaii Burglar and Fire Alarm Association decided to warn homeowners itself.

Members recently talked to a local television station about reports they say they’ve had from customers and others about door-knocking companies using unethical sales techniques.

“We just decided that was the best way to get the word out to the public,” association vice president Mary Paulson told SSN about the June 15 news story that aired on station KHON2. “We’ve done it before. We did it in 2009, and it did slow the activity down and sent a couple of the companies home early.”

The television report did not name the companies allegedly engaged in deceptive sales, and neither association members nor the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii provided Security Systems News with specific information linking the complaints to particular companies.

But the TV story appears to have put Hawaii residents on the alert.

Timothy Caminos, director of communications for Hawaii’s BBB, told SSN that since the news story aired, “We have received a high volume of calls about alarm companies.”

Even in the month prior to the report—in May—the BBB also received 844 inquiries about alarm companies, Caminos said.

“The inquiries are higher this year [than in other years,],” he said.

Caminos said inquiries are not necessarily complaints—they might be from residents simply wondering if an alarm company that approached them is legitimate, for example.

Caminos said it is sometimes hard to know which companies are involved because residents tell the BBB that the sales reps don’t always give a company name or provide only a cell phone number, which he said makes it impossible for the BBB to connect that phone to a business to verify its legitimacy.

He said, “Someone actually told us he [the sales rep] wrote his name and cell phone number on a cardboard piece of paper.”

He said the BBB also has heard concerns about high-pressure sales tactics and improperly installed equipment.

Nathan Berlier, installation service manager with Pro-Tek Security, the only authorized ADT dealer in the state, said he was told of a situation where a 94-year-old woman “with no cell phone, no computer, was sold an alarm system with interactive services that just had one motion detector for protection.”

He’s worried that unethical behavior on the part of out-of-state companies could hurt local alarm businesses. “It gives a bad name to the industry,” he said.

He said association members have contacted state officials in an effort to ensure the mainland companies comply with state licensing requirements and other regulations.

Out-of-state door-knocking companies “discovered” Hawaii a few years ago and have been increasing since then, finding that the friendly residents in the small market—just about 1.3 million people on all the islands—readily welcome strangers into their homes, according to Paulson, owner of a Security One, one of about 30 local alarm companies in Hawaii.

“We are now inundated,” said Paulson, “We have 10 to 12 of these companies running around.”

Complaints she has heard include signing homeowners up for six-month contracts that turn out to be 60 months long.

John Cannon, president and owner of Honolulu-based Alert Alarm, a 49-year-old company that he said is the largest in the state, said the complaints in Hawaii about aggressive sales and misrepresentation are the same as those made about summer sales companies in mainland states. Cannon said: “It’s hard to pinpoint—are these individual sales rep issues or systemic company issues?”

He said Hawaiian companies don’t fear competition. “Competition is always a good thing, but competition should always be ethical and above board and done in a way that doesn’t harm the consumer,” Cannon said.

He urged summer sales companies to register with the state, get licensed, pay appropriate taxes—and join the association. “If they’re doing all that, they should join our group and we should establish a bit of a code of conduct [on how to conduct business in the state],” he said.