5 Alarm Systems That Provide the Worst Security for Your Home

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Skip these alarm systems if you want the best protection for your home | iStock.com

Choosing an alarm system for your home can be a daunting task. We’ve made our picks for the best systems of 2016, but choosing the right alarm system to keep your home and family safe will still require some thought about the cost, the contract, the monitoring options, the installation, and the features you’ll need. When you’re weighing your options, you’ll need to choose whether you want an alarm system that offers basic protection with 24/7 monitoring and police and fire contact, or one with advanced security that also monitors for carbon monoxide, gas leaks, medical alerts, and environmental hazards. Additionally, you may want to consider whether you want a system that adds in home automation capabilities.

What you don’t need is to opt for a system that isn’t going to provide good security for your home. As Consumer Reports researchers explain, even great home alarm systems have their pros and cons. Basic systems — which include a control panel and one or two sensors for doors and windows — cover burglars’ common entry points but leave many areas unguarded. Mid-level alarm systems — which often add infrared motion detectors, glass-breakage sensors, pressure mats, interactive services, and a panic button — cover more windows and doors, but increase the chances of false alarms. And high-end alarm systems — which add features like smoke, carbon monoxide, flood, and heat-loss detection to the features of mid-range systems — cover all vulnerable entry points to maximize protection, but further increase the chances of false alarms, and therefore require more care from residents.
Unfortunately, not every options in any of those categories will actually serve as a good and functional alarm system. Some home security companies are actual scams (and as the FTC reports, you should be wary of door-to-door sales agents with suspicious pitches. Always get references, check out security companies thoroughly, verify contractors’ licenses, get written estimates, and ask plenty of questions). Even some legitimate home alarm systems won’t provide you the level of security that you’re relying on and paying for, either. Check out the types of alarm systems that don’t provide good security for your home so that you know what to look for when trying to protect your family and property.

1. Wireless alarm systems that use radio frequency signals

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A good security system can help protect your home and property | iStock.com

Kim Zetter reports for Wired that plenty of home alarm systems can be hacked and disabled by savvy thieves who can either suppress the alarms or create multiple false alarms that would make the system unreliable. Wireless alarm systems examined by researchers Logan Lamb and Silvio Cesare rely on radio frequency signals sent between door and window sensors to a control system, and this triggers an alarm when any of those entryways are breached. The signals deploy any time a tagged window or door is opened, and when the alarm is enabled, the system trips the alarm and sends a silent alert to the monitoring company.
The researchers found that the systems fail to encrypt or authenticate the signals that are sent from sensors to control panels, which means that thieves can intercept the data, decipher the commands, and play them back to the control panels. The upshot is that many wireless alarm systems are still “using these wireless communications from the mid-90s for the actual security,” which even enables thieves to jam the signals to prevent an alarm from going off. Not exactly the best tech to use if you really want to keep your home secure.

2. Self-monitored alarm systems

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You’ll want to avoid self-monitored alarm systems to keep you and your family safe | iStock.com

If you want the best in security for your home, a self-monitored alarm system often isn’t the way to go. While 24/7 monitoring is usually an expensive part of home security systems, monitoring is key in protecting your home after you’ve had the alarm system installed. There are numerous horror stories about the experiences of homeowners who installed a security system and opted to monitor it themselves instead of having the alarm company’s central station respond to alarms and notify the local police or fire department.

For instance, IFSEC Global recounts a typical story of what can happen if a home alarm system is monitored by the user and not by a security company. Unless you will always have your smartphone on, always respond immediately when you get an email, and always have someone who can go check out your home while you’re away, you likely won’t be able to respond quickly enough in the event that somebody does try to break into your home. In some cases, nobody will get hurt and nothing will get stolen, even if someone succeeds in getting into your home. But, if you want an alarm system that provides the best security, it’s often better to choose an alarm system that will be monitored by professionals.

3. Alarm systems secured with an easy-to-guess code

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Don’t secure your home with an easy code on your alarm system | iStock.com

Just as it doesn’t matter how secure your apps and accounts are if you use a password that’s easy to guess, your alarm system isn’t going to provide great security for your home if you choose an alarm code that’s easy for intruders to guess. Alarm codes like “1234,” “1111,” “2222,” “4567,” or those that incorporate your birth date or social security number or street address are easy for thieves who look up your personal information to guess.

Instead of securing your alarm system with a code that’s too simple or too obvious, you should always choose something random, and avoid using codes that are associated with other accounts and services (they could be compromised in the event of a data breach). The idea is to pick something that nobody will be able to easily guess. If a thief can easily disarm your alarm system, it’s not going to do a good job in protecting you.

4. Alarms to which police won’t respond quickly

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Quick police response is key to protecting your home | iStock.com

Even if your home alarm system is monitored by professionals and is powered by up-to-date technology, there’s another factor you need to consider when determining how well it will protect your home — how quickly police will respond in the event of an alarm. Paul Sullivan reports for The New York Times that even when alarm systems are working correctly, police can be extremely slow to respond. In large cities like New York, Chicago, and Atlanta, police can take as long as 30 to 45 minutes to respond, while in smaller towns, it takes six to eight minutes, and that’s in addition to the two minutes it takes for the alarm to be registered at the monitoring station and for the operator to call you.

The slow response is due in part to the high number of false alarms — estimated at about 80% of alarms — and in part to the low priority of burglaries. To combat false alarms, many police departments charge homeowners to respond after the first or second false alarm. Many homeowners have complained that these fines are levied even when a police car simply drives past the house instead of an officer pulling into the driveway or walking around the property. An alarm system is only as good as the operator, and a slow response may mean that police aren’t on the scene until thieves have already gotten away.

5. Alarm systems with poor reviews and dissatisfied customers

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You’ll want to avoid alarm systems that have already had poor reviews from customers | iStock.com

Any time you’re buying an expensive service or a pricey piece of technology, it’s a great idea to do your research and check out what current and former customers have to say about the companies that you’re considering doing business with. (That’s after you’ve done some basic verification of who a company or a contractor is, and what they’re offering you as part of a deal or contract.) So which alarm system companies should you steer clear of based on what customers have to say?

Top Consumer Reviews recommends being cautious about the services offered by ProtectionOne, which is the subject of concerning warranty complaints, and Broadview Security, which offers extremely expensive home security solutions. The customer service agents for Monitronics were evasive about fees and contract specifics, Alarm Relay uses traditional landline systems that lack flexibility, and Pinnacle offers poor customer service. Additionally, the publication recommends avoiding Comcast’s Xfinity home security packages and CPI Security’s offerings.

BestCompany’s worst security companies of 2015 include Triad Security Systems, which demands extremely high prices, and Select Security, which is notorious for withholding information from customers. Additionally, U.S. Alarm is more expensive than the competition and will only lease alarm systems without enabling customers to purchase them, and Maximum Security Systems offers “incredibly poor” customer service. Finally, Platinum Protection offers little transparency about its pricing and policies, is facing a federal lawsuit, and has more than 100 complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau. After your preliminary research is over, check out the customer reviews to get the inside scoop — they may just know something you don’t.

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