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I-TEAM: An investigation into local home security system issues

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 6:50 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Finding peace of mind these days feels nearly as difficult as trying to find toilet paper last summer. It’s the number one reason families say they’ve invested in smart home devices during the pandemic, from doorbell cameras and lock systems to full home security packages. But our I-Team has a warning about one company targeting Augusta residents.

The district attorney sounded the alarm. Now the federal government is chiming in too. I-Team Liz Owens exposes unsecured home security.

A home security system never crossed Tam Harmon’s mind.

Liz: “You got something on the wall there. Something on the front or a sign.”

Until she fell victim to friend guilt.

Tam: “I had no idea who Vivint was a friend of mine was buying it and she got 50 for referring me to the Vivint sales lady.”

You know how it goes. Anything for a friend.

Tam: “I wanted to know about Vivint she could hardly tell me about the company she said if you don’t like it then just discontinue it.”

No commitment? Why not? A month later.

Tam: “I said what?”

She tried to cancel.

Tam: “I said $1,000 for the equipment? I did not know anything about that.”

She didn’t know anything about a contract either.

Tam: “They say you owe money for the equipment you signed this, and I said I did not sign anything.”

But they said she did.

Liz: “That’s not your signature right here?”

Tam: “No that’s not my signature.”

Pay up to six years of payments or a thousand dollars.

Tam: “But you can see my signature.”

Liz: “Oh yeah definitely.”

Tam: “It’s not the same.”

Liz: “Wow.”

Tam filed a complaint with Better Business Bureau here in Augusta.

Gigi: “What is happening is we have over 4,000 complaints.”

Liz: “4,000?”

Gigi: “Over 4,000 over a three-year period.”

The BBB has flagged the F-rated company on its website. Most concerning to Gigi Turner, the regional director of the CSRA Better Business Bureau, is the pattern of the complaints.

Gigi: “The pattern is a couple things. One being consumers are not being made aware of all the terms involved when making the purchase and spending much more money than they thought in the first place. Trouble with cancelation. They don’t realize once they cancel before a certain timeframe that they own all that property, and they have to pay for all that property.”

And then there is this. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission against Vivint Smart Homes Incorporated this spring. Credit histories of unwitting victims were used to qualify financing for prospective customers.

The FTC alleges that some Vivint’s door to door salespeople used a tactic known as white paging.

Whitepaging is process which involves using another consumer with a the same or similar name on the White Pages app and using that consumer’s credit history to qualify the prospective unqualified customer.

For example: Liz Ann Owens may not pass a credit check. The salesperson looks up a similar name Liz Ruth Owens and uses Liz Ruth’s credit to qualify Liz Ann.

Quoting from FTC’s news release: “In other words - people who had nothing to do with the transaction and never even heard of Vivint found themselves with blemishes on their credit and debt collectors on their backs.”

Last summer the district office warned the I-Team that door-to-door sales people were targeting elderly consumers in Augusta area. An D.A.’s investigator at the time told us salespeople would use a hotspot to demonstrate how the system works but failed to inform seniors they would need Wi-Fi themselves for the system to operate.

Liz: “Were you aware you needed Wi-Fi?”

Tam: “No no I wasn’t. The sales lady was from Texas and she could hardly tell me anything about the company.”

Local deputies can.

Deputy: “I just do not care for the salespeople.

They’ve gone through enough doors here in Augusta to recognize familiar the chirping sound.

Deputy: “They were pushing so hard when it first came out. I mean even out here. Two or three. One on every street. And three months later cannot get somebody to answer the phone. Everybody locked into two and three-year contracts. Only way to void the contract is to buy the equipment outright. Which is about a thousand dollars.”

Gigi: “It is not always the company itself. When you have large companies that have all these hundreds and hundreds of third-party vendors selling door to door they are relying on those vendors to do the right thing.”

But the FTC alleges Vivint didn’t always do the right thing either. The complaint states that Vivint was aware of the problem and in fact terminated many sales representatives for misconduct only to rehire them shortly thereafter.

Gigi: “It’s hard to make door to door sales and they become illegal innovative. We want consumers to beware of door to door sales how to protect themselves. Look at those contracts.”

It took Tam sending a letter to Vivint and involving the BBB’s investigators to finally get out of the contract.

Tam: “They said if you ever want to come back your welcome to come back and I haven’t done that.”

The U.S. Department of Justice fined Vivint $15 million and ordered the company to pay an additional $5 million to consumers. It is the largest monetary judgement to date for the FTC.

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