June 25, 2024 • By Dennis Beaver

I’m often asked, “How do you get your story ideas?” Sometimes, as with 80-year-old “Mr. Albert,” they literally walk in the front door. Anyone who has an alarm system for their home or office will find his story valuable.

Mr. Albert is no more than five feet tall, hunched over, walks with a cane and has a support dog whose vest reads, “My name is Spot.” Mr. Albert is terribly hard of hearing and nearly every time he’s spoken to says, “What? Say that louder!” If he had not stepped into my office, he could have become a victim of an alarm company’s illegal use of an automatically renewing contract provision, as I am certain many of its customers have been.

‘The bill collector won’t leave us alone’

“A bill collector for a security system is constantly phoning,” Mr. Albert told me, “and insists that we pay on a contract that we canceled months ago because they failed to make repairs. She also claims their contract automatically renewed for a five-year term!”

Examining his paperwork, I could see that this out-of-town alarm firm had purchased the local security system provider that the couple signed up with years ago. That local company “gave us excellent service if anything needed their attention,” Mr. Albert said.

I immediately phoned the out-of-town outfit’s customer service and spoke to “Jo-Jo,” who had all the charm of a Mafia goon. She stated, “Our contracts automatically renew for 60 months unless the customer notifies us in writing via certified mail not less than 90 days prior to expiration of the then existing term of their intention to not renew, and he didn’t do that. He owes the money.”

“Mr. Albert canceled months ago,” I replied, “because of your non-performance and told you to pick up the equipment, which you failed to do. Also, that 90-day intent to not renew is total unenforceable nonsense. You obviously are ignoring California’s July 2022, Automatic Renewal Law that requires you to provide him a simple way to cancel and send a reminder notice between 15 and 45 days before the date of renewal. And, by the way, most states — and the Federal Trade Commission — have similar regulations.”

She replied, “There is no such law!”

As it was clear Jo-Jo had attended the Al Capone Collections School, I said, “I have a great idea. Have your boss give me a call. I want him to explain his reasoning for your attempted elder financial abuse.”

I am still waiting for his call. Mr. Albert hasn’t heard from Jo-Jo again.

The many online reviews for the firm that bought the local business all say the same thing, something along the lines of: Our former, locally owned company was wonderful, but these people are rude. All they care about is money. Horrible service. We wanted out, but they just renewed us for five more years.

Advice from a security company’s CEO

I discussed the Mr. Albert situation with Marvin Fuller, CEO of M&S Security Services, based in Bakersfield, Calif. He was a source for my article Is Your Neighbor’s Security Camera Pointed at Your Window?

His father, Marvin Fuller Sr., began the company after retiring from law enforcement. When I was a deputy DA, we worked on cases together, and I was impressed by his ethics and sense of fairness. Those qualities live on in his son.

For anyone wanting to obtain an alarm system, Fuller has these recommendations:

1. Stay local.

You will have better service and will be less likely to have a contract dispute. You can call the owner and say, “I just lost my job and am having a tough time. Can we do something with this contract to help me out?” Fuller says he’s received these calls himself. Or, someone might call and say, “My building just burned down!” Fuller says, “We have always helped our customers. But out-of-town providers are like cellphone companies — it’s only about the money.”

2. Watch out for the hard sell.

This includes salespeople who do not want to let you read the contract or think about the offer. “Read the contract to be sure you are getting everything that has been promised,” Fuller says. “There is nothing wrong with saying, ‘No!’ Yet many people feel guilty. I always say, ‘This is what I do for a living, and I never get upset if I can’t close a deal.’”

Fuller adds that you should never allow yourself to be pressured: “That is what happens with a lot of older people.”

Also, be careful if you’re pushed to sign something. When you are told, “I need you to sign this right now,” don’t. If you do sign something, look first for the three-day right to cancel, and be sure the dates are correctly listed.

Fear is a great motivator. Do not be intimidated by stories of break-ins all over your neighborhood.

3. Consider all the options.

You should be given options instead of being told, “You’ve got to have this.”

Always ask to be shown the minimum amount of equipment needed separately from the bells and whistles, which are often things you do not need.

4. Ask your neighbors for recommendations.

Fuller suggests checking in with neighbors who have alarm systems to see if they’re happy with theirs and whether they would recommend that business.

5. Don’t settle for one estimate.

Always get more than one estimate and be sure to go online to research the elements in the type of security system appropriate for your home or business. Take your time!

Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers,
which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993,
or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1 – at – Gmail.com.