In April, Sandy Martin called Frontpoint Security to cancel the company’s 24-hour home security service for her Salem condo.
Martin was aware that her contract, with its $45 monthly charge for monitoring, was about to expire after three years and knew she could now cancel without an early termination charge.
“Close my account,” Martin recalled telling the Frontpoint customer service representative on the phone.
The Frontpoint representative “assured me the account was closed and did not indicate in any way that anything else needed to be done,” Martin, 64, a musician, said when we recently met. “I thought we were all set.”
Before hanging up, Martin asked what she should do with Frontpoint’s equipment, including an electronic touch pad and sensors, for which she paid $500 back in 2016.
“If you have any friends who might be interested, you can just give it to them,” the rep said.
Martin thought that was a nice gesture, possibly saving some upfront costs for a friend who might be interested in wireless home security service from the Virginia-based company. She asked around but didn’t find anyone.
Five months later, Martin realized her account was still open and the credit card used for it was still being debited $45 a month.
When she called, Frontpoint claimed Martin had actually renewed her account, not canceled it, in her call in April because she had said she would check for a friend who might want the equipment, she said.
“They said that indicated I still wanted it,” Martin said.
That didn’t make sense to Martin. Did Frontpoint really believe Martin would give the equipment to a friend and pay the friend’s monthly monitoring fee indefinitely?
Suddenly, Frontpoint’s “nice gesture” seemed instead to be a ruse used by the customer service rep to keep Martin on the hook.
That infuriated Martin and her partner, Carol Naranjo, 60, a retired physician.
“I think they took advantage of us for the sake of a few more bucks,” said Martin, who in an e-mail to Frontpoint called it a “cockamamie idea that I was going to give the system to someone and keep paying.”
I e-mailed three Frontpoint employees who corresponded with Martin, including a member of the “executive response team” and left a telephone message for one of them. Days later, I got this response: “We have reached out to Ms. Martin regarding her customer experience and have issued her a refund.”
The company added that “this is certainly not the experience we want for any Frontpoint customer.”
Let me make a couple of points:
■ Review your monthly credit card statements. As we increasingly become a cashless society, our credit card statements are proliferating with so many charges it’s easy to overlook an errant one among charges for everything from groceries to pay-by-phone parking to drive-through coffee. For months, Martin and Naranjo missed the Frontpoint charge.
■ When you sign up for a service, know what the terms are for getting out. Expire doesn’t always mean end. The Frontpoint contract is a nine-page sea of fine print, but on the first page is something Martin needed to know: The contract will automatically renew on a month-to-month basis after it expires until the customer cancels in writing.
Martin said the customer service rep, in addition to misinterpreting what she said, failed to tell her she needed to cancel in writing, 30 days in advance.
And even that is complicated: The notice must be received prior to the fifth to last business day of the current month to cancel on the second to last business day of the following month. Sounds like a formula to squeeze out more monthly payments.
■ Talk is cheap. A reader who says he has practiced law for 30 years recently wrote to me with good advice. He was reacting to a column on Harvard Pilgrim in which a consumer complained to me that the giant insurer misled her when she called to ask about coverage for surgery.
“I tell clients, if it’s important, don’t waste your breath on a phone call; if it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen,” he wrote.
“Put it in writing, either in an e-mail or a letter and only rely on a written response,” he wrote.Sean P. Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.