State sues home security company, alleging widespread deceptive business practices

By Andy Rosen, Globe Staff | November 27, 2019

It’s being described as the company that wouldn’t go away.

Invited into homes and businesses to provide monitoring services, Safe Home Security allegedly ignored customers’ requests to cancel, billing many of them hundreds of dollars for what state officials say were services that were not wanted — and in some cases were no longer being provided.

The office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is suing the Connecticut company, alleging in court filings that Safe Home Security uses “unfair and deceptive business practices affecting thousands of Massachusetts consumers.”

In Suffolk Superior Court on Wednesday, Judge Brian A. Davis said he would likely enter an injunction soon prohibiting several billing, contract renewal, and collections practices raised in filings by state attorneys.

The hearing was part of a three-year-old inquiry into Safe Home Security, which Healey’s office said was spurred by complaints from customers who found themselves stuck in a seemingly endless billing cycle, with no way out. Healey’s office says the company has about 17,000 customers in the state.

Beyond the preliminary injunction, Healey’s office is seeking permanent restrictions on the company’s billing, collections, and sales practices. The lawsuit also seeks to recover customers’ losses and penalize Safe Home Security $5,000 for each proven violation of the state’s unfair-trade practices law.

The company denies that it routinely does what is described in the state’s lawsuit, and says its business records contradict some of the assertions made by customers in complaints against Safe Home Security.

“This is not standard operating procedure for Safe Home. In the event some of these things happened, they may have been aberrations,” Joseph Lipari, an attorney for the company, said in court.

After the hearing, chief executive David G. Roman declined to comment.

On its website, the company says it protects more than one million homes and is frequently given five-star ratings by customers. Testimonials attributed to satisfied clients describe attentive representatives and courteous salespeople.

“Customer service is the backbone of any company and I received excellent customer service today which has created a great first impression,” one said.

But documents filed by Healey’s office portray a very different customer experience.

A complaint in the suit — which also names Roman as a defendant — describes door-to-door sales tactics in which representatives have misled customers about whom they’re working for, why they’re at the door, and what the services they’re pitching will actually cost.

Healey’s office filed several affidavits from customers who recounted how they have repeatedly tried to cancel the service, with little satisfaction. Some customers who filed a required 60-day written cancelation notice said the company never honored their requests and just kept renewing their annual contracts.

“When I told them that I had sent in a cancellation letter in the mail, Safe Home Security said they didn’t receive any documents [from] me and that I had probably sent it to the wrong address,” wrote one customer, identified as Bernadine Cooper, who is 74 years old and lives in Granby. “I told them I sent it in the self-addressed envelope Safe Home Security had sent me to pay the bills in, and they did not give me a response.”

When others called asking for an explanation, customers said they got little help.

“The line would mysteriously go dead, or I would be put on hold for a very long time until I would give up,” one customer, named Carl Boyles, wrote in an affidavit.

In court, attorneys for the company said its files do not support some of these claims, and said they would like the opportunity to ask further questions of people who filed affidavits.

The company kept billing even after it cut off service for people who refused to pay or whose security systems were no longer working, according to documents filed by the state. And when they didn’t pay, Safe Home Security allegedly turned to aggressive collection tactics.

A collections law firm working for the company wrongly told customers that it had been authorized to sue them, Healey’s office said. The company also allegedly threatened to report false information about customers to credit bureaus, and contacted their friends, family, and neighbors.

The state also accuses the company of assessing late fees and interest that were higher than the legal limit on accounts it considered past due.

Safe Home Security has had issues with regulators elsewhere.

In 2014, the Connecticut Superior Court required the company to pay that state $100,000 and barred it from employing unfair trade practices. The decision followed a seven-year court fight between the company and the attorney general’s office there.

Healey’s office began investigating in 2016 after it said it got nearly 100 complaints about the company.

The company initially challenged the state’s requests for business documents, but a judge ordered it to comply the following year. After two more years of investigation and discussions with Safe Home Security, Healey’s office filed suit in October.

“We’ve heard from consumers across the state about how difficult it was to work with Safe Home Security – including many who were repeatedly harassed, threatened and illegally charged by the company,” Healey said in a statement. “Our office has taken action to protect our residents and put an end to these business practices.”

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By Andy Rosen, Globe Staff | November 27, 2019

It’s being described as the company that wouldn’t go away.

Invited into homes and businesses to provide monitoring services, Safe Home Security allegedly ignored customers’ requests to cancel, billing many of them hundreds of dollars for what state officials say were services that were not wanted — and in some cases were no longer being provided.

The office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is suing the Connecticut company, alleging in court filings that Safe Home Security uses “unfair and deceptive business practices affecting thousands of Massachusetts consumers.”

In Suffolk Superior Court on Wednesday, Judge Brian A. Davis said he would likely enter an injunction soon prohibiting several billing, contract renewal, and collections practices raised in filings by state attorneys.

The hearing was part of a three-year-old inquiry into Safe Home Security, which Healey’s office said was spurred by complaints from customers who found themselves stuck in a seemingly endless billing cycle, with no way out. Healey’s office says the company has about 17,000 customers in the state.

Beyond the preliminary injunction, Healey’s office is seeking permanent restrictions on the company’s billing, collections, and sales practices. The lawsuit also seeks to recover customers’ losses and penalize Safe Home Security $5,000 for each proven violation of the state’s unfair-trade practices law.

The company denies that it routinely does what is described in the state’s lawsuit, and says its business records contradict some of the assertions made by customers in complaints against Safe Home Security.

“This is not standard operating procedure for Safe Home. In the event some of these things happened, they may have been aberrations,” Joseph Lipari, an attorney for the company, said in court.

After the hearing, chief executive David G. Roman declined to comment.

On its website, the company says it protects more than one million homes and is frequently given five-star ratings by customers. Testimonials attributed to satisfied clients describe attentive representatives and courteous salespeople.

“Customer service is the backbone of any company and I received excellent customer service today which has created a great first impression,” one said.

But documents filed by Healey’s office portray a very different customer experience.

A complaint in the suit — which also names Roman as a defendant — describes door-to-door sales tactics in which representatives have misled customers about whom they’re working for, why they’re at the door, and what the services they’re pitching will actually cost.

Healey’s office filed several affidavits from customers who recounted how they have repeatedly tried to cancel the service, with little satisfaction. Some customers who filed a required 60-day written cancelation notice said the company never honored their requests and just kept renewing their annual contracts.

“When I told them that I had sent in a cancellation letter in the mail, Safe Home Security said they didn’t receive any documents [from] me and that I had probably sent it to the wrong address,” wrote one customer, identified as Bernadine Cooper, who is 74 years old and lives in Granby. “I told them I sent it in the self-addressed envelope Safe Home Security had sent me to pay the bills in, and they did not give me a response.”

When others called asking for an explanation, customers said they got little help.

“The line would mysteriously go dead, or I would be put on hold for a very long time until I would give up,” one customer, named Carl Boyles, wrote in an affidavit.

In court, attorneys for the company said its files do not support some of these claims, and said they would like the opportunity to ask further questions of people who filed affidavits.

The company kept billing even after it cut off service for people who refused to pay or whose security systems were no longer working, according to documents filed by the state. And when they didn’t pay, Safe Home Security allegedly turned to aggressive collection tactics.

A collections law firm working for the company wrongly told customers that it had been authorized to sue them, Healey’s office said. The company also allegedly threatened to report false information about customers to credit bureaus, and contacted their friends, family, and neighbors.

The state also accuses the company of assessing late fees and interest that were higher than the legal limit on accounts it considered past due.

Safe Home Security has had issues with regulators elsewhere.

In 2014, the Connecticut Superior Court required the company to pay that state $100,000 and barred it from employing unfair trade practices. The decision followed a seven-year court fight between the company and the attorney general’s office there.

Healey’s office began investigating in 2016 after it said it got nearly 100 complaints about the company.

The company initially challenged the state’s requests for business documents, but a judge ordered it to comply the following year. After two more years of investigation and discussions with Safe Home Security, Healey’s office filed suit in October.

“We’ve heard from consumers across the state about how difficult it was to work with Safe Home Security – including many who were repeatedly harassed, threatened and illegally charged by the company,” Healey said in a statement. “Our office has taken action to protect our residents and put an end to these business practices.”

READ MORE ON BOSTONGLOBE.COM