False sense of security: When security alarms fail

As you get ready for bed, you probably set your security alarm; but can you really count on it to keep your family safe?

During the original airing of this NBC Charlotte investigation, we inadvertently aired video of a security company that was not part of the investigative report. We apologize for this error and any confusion it may have caused.

You may be safe in your own home, but there's still a lot that can go wrong. That's why most of us now have security systems: To wake us when there's a fire or call the police when an intruder breaks in.

The Defenders finds those systems may not always be so reliable, giving you a false sense of security at the very worst moment.

Kim Connor knows what it means to be homeless, but it wasn't always that way.

Once, she owned a 1930s style barn home. It was even featured on a home renovation show called 'Rezoned'.

"I miss it terribly. I spent eight years renovating it and it was my dream home," said Connor, who lives in Jamesport, Missouri.

Which is why she wanted security and got a fire and burglary system from ADT, one of the largest and best-known home security firms in the country. But one night, her special house caught fire and burned to the ground..

Connor said the alarm system didn't go off until she had already left the house. She had a backup smoke detector installed years earlier, and she says it probably saved her life.

"Even a few more minutes and I probably wouldn't have been able to get out," said Connor.

But worse, it never contacted the fire department the way it was supposed to. Something ADT denied responsibility for in a letter to her.

"Why am I giving you my money, trusting you with my life and property?" said Connor of her eight-year history with ADT. Connor had insurance but says it didn't cover a fraction of her home's value.

ADT told us in a statement, “While ADT sympathizes with our former customer, please keep in mind alarm systems don’t start fires and cannot prevent them from occurring.”

But it's a question others have asked.

In fact, across the country, Five On Your Side discovered lawsuits filed against ADT making similar claims.

Some of them tragic.

Like a suit involving Teri Lee, a Minnesota mother who was being stalked by an ex-boyfriend. She had an ADT system installed at her home but not long after, the boyfriend broke in and murdered her.

Her family's lawsuit claims that the ADT system never alerted her and that some alarm sensors failed. ADT eventually settled the case.

But what's going here?

Home security expert Chris Robertson with Assurance Protection said part of the problem is that ADT sells franchises to private companies that in turn sell the service to you.

"Sometimes you're dealing with authorized dealers that have no direct affiliation with ADT. They seem to run freely and operate at their own pace with very little oversight," said Robertson.

And that includes the quality of the subcontractors that they hire to install your system.

"There's a breakdown sometimes when that happens," said Robertson.

In response, an ADT Spokesman told us in a statement, "ADT along with its Authorized Dealers have earned the highest ranking (A+) from the Better Business Bureau for delivering excellent customer service.”

But sometimes, it's improved technology that's the problem.

"The right equipment and the right device will give us access to just about anything in this house," said Mike Barberi, Security Expert who showed us more alarm system vulnerabilities brought up in a class action lawsuit against ADT.

The vulnerabilities? Hackers infiltrating the security system.

With a simple frequency analyzer, a hacker could not only gain access to your home's security system but be able to monitor everything that goes on inside your residence.

But even worse, they can turn off the system. Barbieri said although the class action is filed against ADT, any alarm system can be infiltrated this way.

ADT declined to comment on the recent litigation surrounding its systems security.

Which brings us back to Connor. She eventually built another home right on top to the home she lost and said she'll never trust any alarm company to help her sleep well at night again.

"There's a good chance it might not function when they need it or function correctly and it can be life-changing. It certainly changed my life," said Connor.

TIPS

  • Home security experts tell us human error is the biggest cause of alarm system failures. Homeowners sometimes ignore trouble or maintenance lights on their keypads.
  • Customers that change their phone service without notifying the security company can also experience a loss of service.
  • After Dec. 31, 2016, some wireless alarm systems may be disrupted if their equipment is more than two years old.
  • Experts recommend buying an alarm system from a corporate office (direct from the company) as opposed to an Authorized Dealers (a franchise). Or alternatively, check with the Better Business Bureau to find out more about specific Authorized Dealers.
  • Experts recommend getting both a hard wire and wireless system when choosing an alarm system.

ADT sent us the following statement in regard to liability.

“Because alarm companies are not insurance companies, all reputable alarm companies use industry-standard contract terms that include provisions regarding risk of loss from a burglary or fire. Alarm companies charge customers based on the cost of providing a service and not based on the value or amount of property any customer may own. Stated differently, an alarm company would charge a customer the same amount for servicing a house that was boarded and empty as it would a house that was filled with jewelry. Obviously, insurance premiums would drastically differ under these two scenarios. Insurance companies financially cover the risk of loss. Alarm companies cannot eliminate but help mitigate the risk of loss. See clause below.

5. LIMITATION OF LIABILITY. This paragraph 5 does not apply to liability, lawsuits or claims for personal injury or property damage caused by

ADT’s negligence during the installation of ADT equipment.

A. INSURANCE; WAIVER OF SUBROGATION. I AGREE THAT ADT IS NOT AN INSURER AND THAT ADT IS NOT PROVIDING ME WITH INSURANCE

OF ANY TYPE. THE AMOUNTS I PAY ADT ARE NOT INSURANCE PREMIUMS AND ARE NOT RELATED TO THE VALUE OF MY PROPERTY, ANYONE ELSE'S PROPERTY LOCATED IN MY PREMISES OR ANY RISK OF LOSS AT MY PREMISES. INSTEAD, THE AMOUNTS ADT CHARGES ME ARE BASED SOLELY UPON THE VALUE OF THE EQUIPMENT AND SERVICES ADT PROVIDES AND UPON THE LIMITED LIABILITY ADT ASSUMES UNDER THIS CONTRACT. IF I WANT INSURANCE TO PROTECT AGAINST ANY RISK OF LOSS AT MY PREMISES, I WILL PURCHASE IT. IN THE EVENT OF ANY LOSS, DAMAGE OR INJURY, I WILL LOOK EXCLUSIVELY TO MY INSURER AND NOT TO ADT TO COMPENSATE ME OR ANYONE ELSE. I RELEASE AND WAIVE FOR MYSELF AND MY INSURER ALL SUBROGATION AND OTHER RIGHTS TO RECOVER AGAINST ADT ARISING AS A RESULT OF THE PAYMENT OF ANY CLAIM FOR LOSS, DAMAGE OR INJURY.

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

C. EXCLUSIVE REMEDY. IT IS IMPRACTICAL AND EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO DETERMINE THE ACTUAL DAMAGES, IF ANY, THAT MAY RESULT FROM A FAILURE BY ADT TO PERFORM ANY OF ITS OBLIGATIONS. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL I ATTEMPT TO HOLD ADT LIABLE FOR ANY CONSEQUENTIAL OR INCIDENTAL DAMAGES, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION, DAMAGES FOR PERSONAL INJURY OR DAMAGES TO PROPERTY. IF, NOTWITHSTANDING THE PROVISIONS OF THIS PARAGRAPH 5, ADT IS FOUND LIABLE FOR LOSS, DAMAGE OR INJURY UNDER ANY LEGAL THEORY RELATING IN ANY WAY TO THE SERVICES AND/OR EQUIPMENT PROVIDED BY ADT, ADT'S LIABILITY TO ME SHALL BE LIMITED TO A SUM EQUAL TO 10% OF THE ANNUAL SERVICE CHARGE OR $500, WHICHEVER IS GREATER. THIS AGREED UPON AMOUNT IS NOT A PENALTY. RATHER, IT IS MY SOLE REMEDY. UPON MY REQUEST, ADT MAY AGREE TO ASSUME LIABILITY BEYOND WHAT IS PROVIDED FOR IN THIS PARAGRAPH 5 BY ATTACHING AN AMENDMENT TO THIS CONTRACT SETTING FORTH THE EXTENT OF ADT'S LIABILITY AND THE ADDITIONAL CHARGES TO ME.

D. APPLICATION. THE PROVISIONS OF THIS PARAGRAPH 5 APPLY NO MATTER HOW THE LOSS, DAMAGE, INJURY OR OTHER CONSEQUENCE OCCURS, EVEN IF DUE TO THE PERFORMANCE OR NONPERFORMANCE BY ADT OF ITS OBLIGATIONS UNDER THIS CONTRACT OR FROM NEGLIGENCE (ACTIVE OR OTHERWISE), STRICT LIABILITY, VIOLATION OF ANY APPLICABLE CONSUMER PROTECTION LAW OR ANY OTHER THEORY OF LIABILITY OR ALLEGED FAULT ON THE PART OF ADT, ITS AGENTS OR ITS EMPLOYEES.


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