Unlicensed alarm sales spread across Texas

They knock on your door late at night or interrupt family dinners. And when you answer, they often give you a long-winded pitch for something you may not need or want.

But unlike magazine salespeople or neighborhood kids pushing treats, alarm-system sellers must be licensed by the state. And some are unregistered, causing alarm across Texas.

In June, the Texas Burglar and Fire Alarm Association warned Texans to use caution after San Antonio and Houston residents complained about unlicensed salespeople and their aggressive sales tactics.

Now the problem is slowly reaching North Texas.

"We have heard of these cases in Austin and Dallas," said Chris Russell, the alarm association president. "But I don't think they compare to the volume that came from San Antonio and Houston."

The Private Securities Bureau of the Texas Department of Public Safety launched investigations in San Antonio and Houston after officials noticed "an increased influx of unregistered alarm salespeople going door to door."

In light of the alarm association and DPS actions, Duncanville police have urged residents to take precautions as well. Police there say they've had problems recently with at least four unlicensed companies.

Garland police said they have received complaints in the past month, too, but the matter was cleared up when the salespeople produced their city-issued solicitor's permit. It is not clear whether those salespeople also had proper state-supplied credentials.

Burglar-alarm salespeople and installers must register with the state. If not, unsuspecting homeowners might unwittingly make themselves easy targets for thieves who use being an alarm salesperson as a ruse to check out a home.

"If they're not licensed by the bureau, you don't know who you're letting into your home," Mr. Russell said. "You let them in and they scope out your home."

To become licensed, salespeople must work for a DPS-licensed alarm company. They must also be at least 18, not have been convicted of two or more felonies in the past 20 years and not be required to register as a sex offender in any state.

Consumers approached by a door-to-door salesperson should ask for their "pocket card," a photo ID card issued by the Private Securities Bureau that salespeople are required to carry.

Soliciting alarm systems without a license has criminal penalties of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Mr. Russell says some companies hire college students and dump them in neighborhoods without experience or the required background check. Posted on Craigslist, job listings for "residential security alarm sales positions" in the Dallas area promise commissions of $400 to $600 per sale and say the job is "perfect for students."

Licensing applications are available through TexasOnline, the official eGovernment Web site for the state of Texas. The applicant is required to know his or her alarm company's license number; the online application allows the candidate to search a database on the department's Web site for the company's number.

Capt. RenEarl Bowie of the Private Securities Bureau says the pocket card is mailed to the company, not the applicant.

Out-of-state salespeople must register in Texas. If the company they work for is not based in Texas and does not have a local branch, it must relocate here and register. "A company from, say, Louisiana cannot send salespeople to Texas without registering here first," Capt. Bowie said.

But that hasn't stopped some companies from trying. Carol Homan of Garland was approached by a salesman for a Utah-based alarm company. The salesman explained that he had 25 free alarm systems allocated for her ZIP code and that free installation was included.

In return, all she supposedly had to do was put the company's sign on her front lawn.

Ms. Homan said that when she asked to see the man's pocket card, he seemed to have no idea what she was talking about and became irate. A spokesman for the alarm company later said it has the required Texas license but couldn't address a specific salesperson.

"This is the kind of thing that gives everyone a bad name," said Ms. Homan, who owns a registered alarm company. "These people are dropped on communities to try and get as many systems installed without homeowners knowing what's going on."

FIND OUT whether alarm companies and installers are licensed.


IN THE KNOW Sounding the alarm

People solicited by an unlicensed alarm salesperson should contact the Texas Department of Public Safety or their local police department immediately. Homeowners who have purchased an alarm system from an unlicensed alarm salesperson should file a report with the Texas attorney general's office at 1-800-621-0508.