Cencom, Inc. said to use “vague and misleading offers to lure consumers”
SEATTLE – A Kirkland, Washington-based business selling home alarm installation, repair and monitoring services nationwide will change marketing and billing practices criticized by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.
In a complaint filed in King County Superior Court against Cencom, Inc, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division alleges that the company’s websites use “vague and misleading offers to lure consumers” into signing up for security system monitoring. The complaint points out that once a promotional rate of $5.95 per month expires, it spikes to $19.95 a month – for a minimum of two additional years. Early cancellation triggers a $299.95 fee. All those details, says Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, are concealed during the purchase process.
“Those reading phrases such as ‘cancel your service at anytime’ and ‘no contract term required’ are not surprisingly shocked to learn they are on the hook for ballooning prices or big cancellation fees,” said McKenna. “This is a textbook case of what our state’s Consumer Protection Act calls unfair and deceptive.”
The Attorney General’s complaint explains that those visiting Cencom sites must land their pointers over the correct spots in order to reveal “hover text” that pops up to explain important terms of the offers. And figuring out how to cancel the service is intentionally puzzling.
“Cencom purposely throws up roadblocks to the successful cancellation of an account,” said Assistant Attorney General Jason Bernstein, who handled the case on behalf of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. “They won’t cancel by email or by a simple phone call, instead insisting that consumers use a special website that emails a partial code. Then consumers have to call a phone number to get the second part of the code and finish the cancellation – or they may send a certified letter.”
Cencom, owned by Ron H. Cats of Kirkland, claims their service accepts signals from a previously installed alarm system, notifying police when an alarm has been tripped. The company also does business as saveonmyalarm.com, Alarm Partner, American Digital Monitoring, and Alarm Monitoring Services and Alarm Verifier.com, LLC on websites such as:
Additional unfair or deceptive practices listed in the Attorney General’s complaint include:
- Misrepresentations made about the longevity of the company.
- Assertions that they are a Better Business Bureau-accredited business when they are not.
- A hidden waiver of the 72-hour cancellation right if the customer purchases at a “promotional rate,” when nearly all sales are made at promotional rates – so most consumers may not cancel.
- Hiding additional fees – including shipping and handling charges for necessary equipment – and disclaimers deep in its Terms and Conditions, which are not accessible from the main webpage.
Under the terms of a consent decree, also filed today by the Attorney General’s Office, Cencom will pay $45,000 in costs and attorneys fees. The company will refund early termination fees and stop attempting to collect on unpaid fees. Cencom will also send letters of explanation to credit reporting agencies asking that all records of collections activity against those who refused to pay early termination fees be removed from credit reports. Eligible consumers will receive refunds within the next 75 days.
Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725