By Cara Giaimo, SimpliSafe.com
In 1974, the citizens of Wichita, Kansas got some shocking news — a local family of four had been brutally murdered in their home. Over the next few years, as the list of victims grew, the police and the local news station realized they were dealing with a serial killer. He became known as the BTK Strangler (for “Bind, Torture, Kill”), and stalked and caught ten victims before he was finally arrested and revealed to be Dennis Rader — church group president, Cub Scout Leader, and ADT installer. That’s right — he bankrolled his murder habit by installing home security systems. He spent his nights terrifying the public and his days reassuring them. Talk about keeping yourself in business.
Most alarm installers are just like anyone else — trying to do their job as well as they can. But some of them, like the BTK Strangler, use their profession to get special access into peoples’ homes, and then take advantage of it. Although we no longer have to fear the Rader (he’s locked up in solitary confinement and is due to stay there for ten consecutive life sentences), others carry his torch to varying degrees. Read on to figure out how to avoid inviting dangerous people inside — and how others have learned the hard way.
With Friends Like These . . .
Earlier this month, an Ocala, Florida family hired their (now former) friend Shawn Garza to install an alarm system and some security cameras in their home. It took them two weeks to notice that he hooked up the cameras improperly, and worse— he’d come back to the house later on two different occasions and helped himself to over $100,000 worth of jewelry. Garza was eventually arrested on twelve different counts and awaits bail, but the family never recovered their stolen heirlooms, because Garza pawned them.
The Universal Keys to Your Home Easily Found Online
Many people don’t realize this, but when installers put in an alarm system, they program in a universal code, so that they can set it up and test it properly. This master code can be used to arm and disarm the home security system, just like your personal PIN code. Most companies use the same “Master Codes” throughout the country — and they are posted on web forums easily hunted down by bad guys. Luckily, alarm system manuals provide instructions for resetting the master code. Do it.
In 2007, personal finance expert Ted Siedle decided to “invest” in an ADT security system — and ended up losing big time. The subcontractors who installed his system didn’t come on time, didn’t speak English, didn’t wear ADT uniforms, and may have stolen his entire family’s passports. To make matters worse, the supervisor who was sent to patch things up broke a family artifact instead. Siedle had to jump through hoops to be reimbursed for the damage, and the company refused to do anything about the passports, because they weren’t responsible for the subcontractors THEY had hired. As Siedle points out wryly in a detailed recap of his experiences, “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.”
Do Your Own Background Checks
Installers with shady pasts have become such a problem that federal legislation has been introduced to combat it. Until it passes, though, consumers are on their own. After his ordeal, Siedle came to the conclusion that “if you choose to allow people into your home, they should be employees of the company, not independent contractors. Make copies of their identification documents so you can check their backgrounds and report them to police, if necessary.” You can do this by browsing someone’s public and vital records, or by paying a company to do it for you, but the best information comes straight from the FBI. (Be warned, though — regardless of the route you take, it often costs time and money to do this yourself).
And There’s More. . .
These aren’t the only horror stories — in fact, they keep piling up. A SecureWatch home security system installer in Tampa was arrested last year after forcing his way into a woman’s home, wrapping an electrical cord around her neck, and assaulting her (this despite the fact that the company he worked for does “thorough workups of people, along with other checks and searches”). A senior citizen in North Carolina was upset and surprised when his ISI Alarms home security system came with two unexpected “bonuses:” an installation that went until the wee hours and a similarly shady 3-year contract. And just a couple of weeks ago, after DirectSat installers damaged her French doors, a Houston woman suffered a chain of botched repairs that made everything worse — she had to involve the local news to make it stop.
But The Cure Is In Your Hands
We don’t advocate thinking that every stranger is a bad guy. But when it comes to your home security, the maxim “better safe than sorry,” comes to mind. If you are going to do the wired installation route, take the time to do the background checks. If you want to avoid having an installer in your home, there are alternatives — installing your own security system would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, but advances in wireless technology have made it not only possible, but extremely simple. Nowadays, you can do it in 15-30 minutes. Siedle sums it up well when he says “if you can avoid having people come into your home to install the system, you reduce certain risks.” There are lots of DIY home security systems on the market. Do your research and pick the one that’s best for your home, budget, and security needs.
Thanks to SimpliSafe.com and Cara Giaimo for this article.