We’re all familiar with signing an agreement for services – from cell phone, cable or satellite TV to our home security, alarm monitoring, and internet services. In fact, we’re so familiar with the process and, hopefully, common agreement terms, that we often sign up without reading every word. The good news is that the details are often in place to protect you, the consumer, ensuring you receive an agreed upon service and fully understand any limitations related to it.
Service agreements also should outline what a company has agreed to provide, what’s expected from you, any conditions that might impact the service, and a clear payment plan. As a consumer, you should never feel forced to sign an agreement before having time to fully review it or ask questions. Fortunately, there are indications when a company might not have your best interest in mind when asking you to commit.
Watch for Warning Signs Before you Sign a Contract
So that there are no surprises, you should read all the terms before signing on the bottom line. It’s also good to know the warning signs of someone attempting to scam you into an agreement, for their benefit, such as:
- Pressure to sign that day or immediately
- Unable or unwilling to provide a business card, company address, or business license number
- Stating they are a representative of your current provider but did not have an appointment and is unwilling to let you take time to confirm their statements
- Requesting access inside your home, to your service or equipment, as part of signing a new contract that you didn’t request
- Saying that your current provider has gone out of business or has been bought (check with your current provider or visit their website for accurate information.)
- Unwilling or unable to provide referrals or positive ratings from consumer agencies
Understand Common Contract Terms and Conditions
Taking time to review and understand anything you sign is an important step when considering a new service or provider. While every company agreement is different, it can be helpful to be aware of common contract terms, conditions, and “fine print,” such as:
Length of contract – Common cellular or security contract lengths, for example, are two to three years respectively. Some companies provide service agreements for up to five years. Your contract should outline what you’re responsible for in the event you choose to cancel your service during this term and based on agreed upon fees.
Initial term – This refers to the first term of your contract, prior to any renewal. Be sure to understand how long your initial term is and what happens after that time.
Automatic renewal and cancellation policies – None of us wants our phone, security, or other critical services to quit at midnight on a certain date unless we request it. Having your security service, including your alarm monitoring, automatic lighting, and monitored smoke detectors, shut off would be especially worrisome. For this reason, most security companies have an automatic renewal, with a process for cancelling the service with advance, written notice from you. In the security industry specifically, your provider needs to be certain it’s you asking to cancel and not someone with bad intentions, who wants access to your home or family.
Payment terms – How much will you pay and on what schedule? What will you owe if you decide to cancel the service before your agreement term is complete? Is there an early termination fee? If you’re in the military, ask the provider if they offer options in the event you receive relocation orders.
Inclusions or potential benefits – If you move, can your service move with you? Could you receive any discounts on other home services, such as home insurance premiums, based on the service being offered?
Potential laws or permits that might impact your service – For certain services and areas, your provider might note laws, permits, fines, or local ordinances that pertain to the service, for which you could be responsible.
Responsibilities – Understand what is required on your side, to ensure the service can continue uninterrupted. For example, if you change your phone service, will that impact your alarm monitoring? Will switching internet providers impact your satellite TV service?
Warranty – What options are there if the product, service, or equipment need repaired? Is there a standard or extended warranty offered? Take the time to understand what’s covered in both options and consider what’s right for your budget.
Be Aware of Fraudulent Sales and Door-to-Door Contract Scams
Now that you know what to look for in a contract, it also helps to know when someone might be attempting to scam you into an agreement you didn’t request. Sometimes, suspicious sales activities occur at your home, on your front porch.
In other, recent security blogs, we’ve shared ways to protect your personal information and helpful home security tips, including staying safe when someone knocks at your door. Not everyone who stops by is a bad guy, and many legitimate home security providers check in with neighbors when in the area, to provide information. Be wary of a visitor who uses high-pressure tactics and wants access to your home or your signature. Whether a person calls your home or shows up on your porch, protect your home and identity before ever signing a contract – or providing access to your bank account – by following these steps:
- Never open the door to someone who doesn’t have an appointment.
- If the person claims to be from a company you do business with, call your provider to confirm they have sent a representative.
- Take the time to check details before signing a contract.
- Know the facts about those who provide your home services. Stay up to date on company news via their website and social media activity. Look for information about common scams, suspicious activity, or imposter alerts.
- Report suspicious activity to the local police, sheriff or Better Business Bureau. Or, if someone claiming to represent your security company seems questionable, call your home security provider.
- Start a neighborhood watch group.
- If your home alarm system includes video surveillance, use your security cameras and smartphone to monitor activity, such as people going door to door, looking for easy entry and checking who’s home.
- Share these tips with friends, family or neighbors. By knowing what to watch for and being more security aware, you help keep your home more secure and create a safer neighborhood.
Ask Important Questions and Be a Wise Consumer
At Alert 360, we believe in building strong relationships with our customers from the start and offer a No Secrets form, one of the most transparent in our industry. This form helps highlight key terms of our agreements. Before you consider signing an agreement, ask your provider if they offer a similar form or will review the key terms with you. If you’re still unsure, check with the Better Business Bureau or Federal Trade Commission for guidance or background on the provider.
The services we rely on – whether it’s to protect our most precious possessions or to help us stay connected to friends and family – require serious consideration and a commitment from both you and the service provider. That’s not a bad thing. Feeling pressured to sign a document before you understand the agreement is. Use these tips to become a more confident and wise consumer.
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