Who’s there?

ROBERT DeBERRY/Frontiersman An APX Security sign attached to a tree serves as a deterrent to would-be burglars. APX, which is now Vivint Inc., is a Utah-based home security company that has been knocking on doors to increase commissions — sometimes in areas where door-to-door sales are prohibited.

WASILLA — They say they are dedicated to outstanding customer service and are proud of two prestigious awards from J.D. Power and Associates and a recent write-up in Forbes magazine for the company’s charitable giving program.

But Vivint Inc., a Utah-based home security company formerly known as APX, has made some Valley residents feel anything but secure as salesmen knock on doors to increase their commissions — sometimes in areas where door-to-door sales are prohibited.

“These guys were like hawks,” Palmer resident Lisa Rodgers said of the Vivint salesmen in her neighborhood at the end of April. “They were horrible. I told them it wasn’t a good time and I figured that would be the end of it. But they came back late that night when I wasn’t there and talked to my husband. They told him that I had been really interested in buying the system, which wasn’t true. This made me really suspicious because it was like 10 at night. Who goes door-to-door that late at night?”

Rodgers said she called the Palmer Police Department and found out they’d received several complaints about other Vivint salesmen in Palmer. That’s when she discovered Palmer’s municipal code actually prohibits such unsolicited sales in residential areas.

She said the police came out and checked all their identification cards and driver’s licenses and informed them of the city’s code. They were legitimate salesmen, she said.

“We mostly get calls about them being a nuisance,” Palmer Police Sgt. Lance Ketterling said. “This tends to happen in the summer when the weather warms up. We explain the ordinance to them and sometimes end up contacting the corporate office of some of these companies to make sure they understand it’s not allowed unless they have an appointment ahead of time.”

Rodgers said her husband was talked into buying a basic security system after the salesman said he’d waive the installation fee if they signed a four-year contract costing about $50 per month. It would cost $99 to have it activated.

But as they were beginning to install the system, Rodgers did some research on the Internet and discovered the Better Business Bureau in Utah has given Vivint a “D” grade on a scale of A to F for legal actions by governments of several states amounting to fines totaling more than $125,000 and more than 1,400 consumer complaints in a three-year period.

The Rodgers family backed out of the contract immediately. Under Federal Trade Commission laws, consumers have three days to cancel such a contract.

The BBB and FTC have issued warnings against such sales tactics by home security companies.

“Unscrupulous door-to-door sales agents use a variety of approaches and pitches to get you to buy an alarm system and monitoring services,” the FTC warns.

The FTC advises residents to be wary of offers of “free” equipment because it usually comes with a long-term, expensive contract for a system that could be substandard and actually make your home less secure by causing you to let your guard down.

“They may use scare tactics,” the FTC said. “For example, they may talk about a rash of supposed burglaries in your neighborhood.”

After the Frontiersman spoke to a variety of Valley residents about visits from APX/Vivint salesmen over the last couple of years, it appears the salesmen are using the same tactics the FTC warns about on a regular basis.

Cheryl Estes, of West Locksley Loop off Pittman Road in Meadow Lakes, said an APX salesman came to her door about two years ago after the paving of Karen Street.

She said the young man was very polite and able to convince her son they should purchase a security system because the improvements to Karen Street would surely bring more criminals into the area.

“It seemed to make sense,” Estes, 65, said from her front porch as she held back her large dog. “I don’t know how much it cost because my son paid for it, but I’ve been very happy with it so far. I’ve accidentally set off the alarm several times and they’ve always responded quickly and the police even came out one time.”

Estes said her son wants to buy an upgrade to the system that will allow for monitoring not connected to their phone line.

“It does make me feel a lot safer, although I don’t know if I really have anything worth stealing,” she said.

Of the approximately 40 homes on Estes’ street, six sport either blue-and-white APX signs or the orange Vivint signs on trees in their front lawns.

Palmer is the only municipality in the Mat-Su Borough that has an ordinance prohibiting door-to-door sales.

Vivint Public Relations Director Megan Herrick said Thursday Vivint is a legitimate, high-quality company that boasts more than 500,000 customers nationwide.

“We’re not a scam,” Herrick said from her office in Provo, Utah. “We’ve had issues with our licensing in the past because we grew so fast over a two-year period, we couldn’t keep up with all the regulations and we did get dinged by the Better Business Bureau for that. But we have several people now dedicated to making sure we’re completely in compliance.”

She said the 1,421 complaints investigated by the BBB — most of which have  been resolved to the satisfaction of the customers — represent a small percentage of the company’s total customers.

“That comes out to an average of only six complaints per market,” she said. “We don’t train our sales people to be overly pushy or rude or to use any sort of sales tactics that might be considered dishonest. Customer service is our No. 1 priority and we are doing everything we can to be proactive against behavior that might be uncharacteristic of our values. Sometimes one bad apple can make the whole company look bad.”

Herrick said she was unaware of Palmer’s code and would be sure to let her managers know not to send salesmen there. She said they haven’t worked in the Valley in the past two months, but would like to in the future.

“I wouldn’t work for a company I didn’t believe in,” Herrick said, adding there are lots of heartwarming stories out there about how their security system saved people’s lives. “This is a great company with a top-notch product. If there are salesmen out there doing something inappropriate, we want to know. We want their names and identification numbers so that we can deal with them.”

Herrick urges residents to report any poor sales experiences to Vivint customer service at (800) 216-5232 or they can call her directly at ext. 6291. Butte resident Karen White said Friday she simply warned the Vivint salesman at her door she had all the security she needed in the form of watchful neighbors and a variety of firearms.

“When the young man in the bright orange shirt asked me if I knew what kind of security systems my neighbors had,” White said with a sly grin, “I told him there were probably enough guns in our area to start World War III!”

Contact K.T. McKee at kate.McKee@frontiersman.com or 352-2252.

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