They are so commonplace that most of us don’t even notice them anymore: the little shields or decals indicating that a property is “protected” by a home security system. They have become as ubiquitous as car alarms, which seemingly are standard equipment on all but the cheapest autos.
According to the New York Times, in 2010 there were about 36 million security systems in the United States, half of them in homes. That amounted to approximately 16% of all homes in 2010. Revenue for the industry was $28.2 billion in 2009, according to the Installation Business Report, an annual survey published by Security Sales & Integration Magazine.
Americans today are clearly willing to pay a hefty premium, i.e., the cost of the alarm system itself and monthly monitoring, for protection against crimes being perpetrated against their residences. The total annualized cost of home security can easily exceed $100 a month, or the cost of, say, cable television service with all the premium channel add-ons. Does this additional cost, in fact, result in greater security? Or might hiring a home security company actually compromise your security?
The truth is if you’re living in a decent suburb—a neighborhood without a high crime rate—the likelihood of a home robbery or invasion is probably minimal. For many, a statistically remote probability of harm is little comfort. If you are nevertheless (understandably) concerned about protecting your family, valuables and your property, I suggest you consider the dangers associated with home security systems and service providers, along with any potential benefits.
You might be surprised to learn, as I did, that the greatest threat to the security of your home may be the very people you have selected to install or monitor your home’s security.
There are certain dangers associated with the operation of home security systems themselves (such as whether the alarm will sound properly when tripped) and the monitoring services related to these systems (such as whether the security company operator and the police will respond quickly). Given the overwhelming negative customer feedback regarding industry leaders, such as ADTADT +0% (a subsidiary of Tyco International), on sites such as Hellopeter.com (90% unfavorable), it is apparent that there is room-for-improvement in the industry.
However, your greatest concern, I believe, should be whether the individuals and the company you have contracted with for security can be trusted in your home, with access to your valuables, as well as information regarding your family and possessions.
Remember that whomever you allow into your home could potentially use any knowledge gained therein to your disadvantage.
Here’s a personal example of what can happen.
In 2007, I contracted with ADT to install a home security system and monthly burglary and fire monitoring. The total installation charge alone was not cheap—several thousand dollars.
On the installation date, a single technician arrived surprisingly early—at 8 a.m.—as opposed to the 10 a.m.-noon window that had been agreed upon. Also unsettling was the fact that he had no ADT logo on his shirt and did not speak a word of English. I called ADT immediately and the company acknowledged it had made an error. A supervisor would return later with another installation subcontractor who would be better able to communicate, I was told. The supervisor arrived at 10:30 with two other men who spoke little English. In response to my concerns, I was assured that these subcontractors, while not ADT employees, had recently been subjected to thorough background checks. When the men left after six hours, the installation work still had not been completed. Following further complaints, two weeks later a new technician was sent who indicated there would be substantial additional charges to complete the installation.
Thus far, this probably sounds similar to gripes you’ve had with companies who failed to deliver products and services as promised.
But the story gets worse.
The supervisor had damaged a valuable artifact when he was in my home which (fortunately) was immediately brought to his attention. After protracted negotiations, ADT agreed to compensate for the damage. Fair enough.