Will your home alarm fail during a break-in?

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by Jeremy Rogalski / I-Team

khou.com

Posted on May 20, 2013 at 11:47 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 21 at 12:11 PM

HOUSTON — Walk in the shoes of Bruce Watkins and you’ll know how it feels to be a victim in your own home.

“I felt violated, I felt like I’ve been raped,” Watkins said.

Burglars busted through the bathroom window of his La Marque home not once or twice, but:

“I had gotten a brand new TV and boom, I get hit again,” he said.

He suffered a total of three times in three months.

“Screw the [expletive],” he said.

But Watkins is not referring to thieves.

“I’ve been screwed by ADT big time,” Watkins said.

Watkins claims on every single break in, in which he said his flat screen TV was stolen every single time, the ADT alarm system in his home never went off. Watkins blamed a faulty motion detector for the lack of protection.

“I’ve got to defend myself,” Watkins said, referring to a double-barrel shotgun he kept by his side at night, waiting for the intruders to strike next.

I-Team: “Should you have to stay up all night?”

Watkins: “No, hell no!”

Meanwhile in Montgomery County, homeowner Farooq Khan was hit just once, but a lot harder.

“I think it’s a false sense of security,” he said.

Khan showed the I-Team several pictures of ransacked closets and dresser drawers and estimates the thieves spent hours searching for valuables.

”Every single thing had been turned upside down,” Khan said.

He said they made off with jewelry and a large stash of emergency cash.

“They took every single bit of it,” he said.

In a letter, ADT’s claims adjustor wrote the “intruders were careful to keep very close to the floor” to avoid the motion detector.  So, Khan said, he decided to test the adjustor’s claim by going as low as he could go, actually lying on the floor, and then turning the system on.

He says the motion detector then triggered the alarm.

The conclusion?

“It’s still a mystery, ADT could not tell us why it didn’t go off,” Khan said.

But even when alarms do go off, the I-Team identified another potential problem.

According to a former ADT insider, many alarms fail to communicate back to the company. And the reason why?

“In the past several years, everything was installed with the 2G technology,” the former insider said.

2G or second generation cell communication has been an industry-wide standard for years in the alarm system industry.  It was thought to be superior to using a land line because it couldn’t be physically cut by a would-be burglar.

And now? “The major phone carriers are going to make 2G obsolete—they’ve already started the process,” the former employee says.

It’s something the entire home alarm system industry is currently dealing with by transitioning to 3G or 4G equipment.  But this former ADT technician claims in the Houston-area tens of thousands of ADT customers still have alarms with older cell phone units inside.

A color-coded map of local cell phone coverage shows strong 3G and 4G signals across most of Harris County. But when filtered for only 2G, the weak spots creep in. So what happens when there’s an emergency in those areas?

“Nobody gets called, not ADT, not the police, not the fire department, not the ambulances, not even the customer,” said the former insider.

And that person said consumers need to be aware of something else—the fine print in ADT’s contract. It states customers promise not to sue, but if they do anyway, ADT’s liability is limited to $500.

“People are being sold a bill of goods,” said Bruce Watkins. He also warned “buyer beware” before consumers went on the dotted line.

ADT spokesperson Sarah Cohn provided the following statement in response to the burglaries of homeowners Bruce Watkins and Farooq Khan:

“We are very sorry about the property losses these customers experienced. Our records indicate that both customers’ systems were communicating with ADT both before and after their reported incidents. Their systems communicated via traditional telephone land lines, so cellular reception was not an issue.  Although the motion detector in question tested fine at the time of the service call, we could not determine whether the motion detector malfunctioned or whether the burglar simply avoided it at the time of the incident.  We replaced the motion detector, and tested the new one, to remove any doubt the customer may have had with device functionality.  We always recommend that our customers become familiar with their systems and test them at least monthly.”
 
As for the 2G issue, ADT claims it knows when a cell unit loses its signal and always contacts customers to get it resolved.

“We will address the 2G sunset the same we addressed the analog cell sunset or the big move from land line telephones to cell phone communication over the last decade,” Cohn said.

Technology sun-setting is nothing new. It’s an industry-wide issue that doesn’t affect just ADT customers, and it’s part of what we do,” she said.

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