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Sean P. Murphy | The Fine Print

Home security system proved anything but

For months, Phyllis Kravetz of Swampscott wrestled with an unreliable security system, getting little satisfaction from her pleas to the company charged with maintaining it.
For months, Phyllis Kravetz of Swampscott wrestled with an unreliable security system, getting little satisfaction from her pleas to the company charged with maintaining it.(Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

Phyllis Kravetz decided last year to switch from a local home security provider to one of the biggest and best known in the industry: ADT.

For more than 30 years, Kravetz had used Jemp-Marc Security of Middleton, close to her Swampscott home. When she needed fixes, the company owner personally came to her house.

But the decades-old system finally needed replacement, and based on the recommendation of a family member, Kravetz impulsively called ADT, which advertises heavily on TV.

“The worst mistake I ever made,” she said when we talked at her home last week.

Within days, a pair of salesmen from Defenders, a local business partner of ADT, sat down at her kitchen table. The contract she signed on Oct. 4 included $1,280 for installation and hardware, plus $53 a month for monitoring, locked in for three years. Total cost: almost $3,200.

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But it has never worked right.

About two weeks after it was installed, the security system failed to come on. Then, days later, it turned on. It was like it had a mind of its own, Kravetz said.

“It got so bad that I just wanted to rip it out of the wall,” said the diminutive Kravetz, an 88-year-old retired lawyer, with a weary chuckle. “It’s been a horror show.”

Thus began three months of misery on the phone trying to get help. The point of a security system is to have uninterrupted coverage, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You would think that Defenders, which installed the system, would have responded quickly, because sporadic coverage is as good as none.

Think again.

The first time Kravetz called Defenders for help, the technician said he thought he could fix it “on his end” without coming to the house, she said. Kravetz hung up and waited for the system to begin operating properly or for the technician to call back with a new idea. Neither happened, she said.

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The people she talked with on the phone obviously lacked the sense of urgency she felt, she said, as illustrated by her recollection of one of the more frustrating exchanges she said she had:

“I need someone to come right away,” she said.

“We can come next week,” a customer service representative replied.

“But I don’t want to go another week without my alarm,” she said.

“I’m not authorized to make an earlier appointment.”

“Well, who is authorized?”

“My manager.”

“Can I talk to your manager?”

“No, the manager is not available,” the rep said.

Kravetz also said that, by her recollection, she made five appointments for technicians to examine the system, but that on three occasions no one showed up.

The first time a technician set foot in Kravetz’s home was Dec. 28, almost three months after she first lodged a complaint, she said. The tech replaced one of the sensors, she said, and announced “you should be fine now” on his way out the door.

She wasn’t.

She and her husband, Myer, 90, went to Florida in January but arranged for their son, Richard, to be at their home on the only other occasion when a technician actually did show up.

But by that point, Phyllis had lost confidence in the system and the companies that were supposed to stand behind it. Another son, Gary, said he called Defenders to say the family considered the contract breached and terminated.

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“I told them to come pick up their equipment,” Gary said.

ADT is a 140-year-old company that says it has more than 7 million customers. I was surprised when an ADT representative told me ADT and Defenders are “totally separate” companies, because almost all the documents in Phyllis Kravetz’s file are plastered with the ADT logo.

They may be different companies, but they are not separate. Defenders is an ADT “authorized premier provider.” It’s a distinction Kravetz missed when buying her new system.

Late last week, Kravetz told me she got a call from a Defenders representative who said the company now agreed to a refund and cancellation of the contract. A Defenders representative had told me earlier in the week that it was “working to resolve” issues with her but declined to respond when I provided a brief summary of service breakdowns as recounted to me by Kravetz.

Is it better to do business with a big company (ADT/Defenders) or a small one (Jemp-Marc)? I don’t know. But one thing is clear: Kravetz, after decades of great service from Jemp-Marc, should have stayed with them.

Kravetz told me Jemp-Marc is the next call she makes.

.   .   .

A sacred Torah damaged during transport to a Milton synagogue is now fully restored and safely returned to the ark where it is stored, about six weeks after I wrote about it.

“We feel a profound sense of relief,” said Rabbi Fred Benjamin of Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills.

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The Torah had been sent to Florida for expert repair and restoration, after about a century of use in Greater Boston.

But one of its spindles was deeply cracked and a piece knocked out while being shipped home by UPS. Benjamin and Paul Cooperstein, the congregation president, demanded UPS cover the $630 cost of repairs. After all, UPS’s online tracking system indicated the box containing the Torah had been in a “transportation accident.”

At first, UPS offered only $100, but after I contacted the company, the shipping company agreed to pay the whole cost. The repair was done and the Torah returned last week.

I like happy endings.


Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.