Free offer should ring alarm bells

Highland Council Trading Standards Service is warning householders to be on their guard if they receive a phone call informing them that they have won a free house alarm.  

Unsuspecting consumers are being ‘cold called’ by phone with the news that they have won a ‘free’ alarm and that a representative will be round to fit it for them. 

However, once the salesman is inside the consumer’s home, very often the householder is subjected to lengthy persuasion tactics in order to get them to sign up to a full home  security system.  

In some cases the offer of the ‘free’ alarm is withdrawn and the salesman goes in for a hard sell, which can result in the consumer signing up to a bumper long-term contract.  The value of these contracts can be from £3,000 to £6,000. 

Elderly and more vulnerable consumers are targeted by sales staff.  Once a sale is secured the alarm system engineer calls round to the house the next day.  If the consumer tries to cancel their contract, they are told by the firm that they have signed their cancellation rights away and that it is too late to cancel. 

Highland Council Principal Trading Standards Officer, Bob Jones advises:  “Consumers do have a seven day cooling off period if they enter into a contract in their own home. Under such contracts the consumer should be made aware of their rights by the trader and a notice of cancellation should be left with them. If the contract entered into is related to buying a service, such as fitting an alarm system, then this work should not commence until the full seven calendar days have expired.  Only then should the firm come back and commence work on the consumer’s home. If a business fails to leave a notice of cancellation with the consumer, informing them of their rights and how to exercise these rights, then he or she is committing a criminal offence.”

He added: “Householders are advised, however, to be very cautious about entering into contracts under these circumstances and to consider seriously if they really want to purchase an alarm system at all. If the answer is “yes”, it would be sensible to obtain quotations from several reputable firms before committing to an expensive purchase. Names of firms supplying and fitting burglar and security alarms can be found in trade directories such as Yellow Pages.”

A spokesman for Northern Constabulary said: "If members of the public suspect that cold callers are committing a crime, e.g. a fraud, they should contact their nearest Police station, otherwise call their local Trading Standards office for advice."

Highland Council Trading Standards Service would like to hear from consumers who are concerned about cold calls they have received or the practices of salespersons who visit them at home.  Consumers can contact The Highland Council, Trading Standards Service, TEC Services on 01463/228700 or by visiting or writing to their offices at: Highland Council Trading Standards, 38 Harbour Road, Inverness IV1 1UF.

2 Nov 2009