An Alarming Lack Of Security

, , , , , , | Legal | July 22, 2020

I’ve shared this story in the comments of a few different NAR stories, so it may be familiar to some long-time readers.

About ten years ago, my hometown had a bit of a burglary problem. Several homes in the area are summer homes for rich people; they are not occupied year-round. Naturally, this made it easy for the burglar to avoid getting caught; they just broke into homes that they knew were empty. They also only stole routine items such as TVs, video game consoles, and power tools — stuff that was easy to sell in secondhand markets without drawing any significant attention.

Several of the rich homeowners had installed alarm systems through a local security/alarm company, but the company had not taken action in any of the burglaries, and law enforcement had never been sent to investigate an alarm. Naturally, the homeowners simply assumed that the alarm systems were faulty, but the company finally admitted that while each burglary had triggered the alarm, the automatic verification calls to the home had always come back as a false alarm report.

Law enforcement officers finally listened to the recordings of a few such calls to figure out what was going on. In each call, the company agent naturally went through an identity verification script to make sure they were talking to the actual homeowner. The only problem was that, instead of having the homeowner state the answers to the security questions, the company only required the homeowner to verify the information on file.

For example, instead of asking, “Who am I speaking with?”, the company would ask, “Is this [Homeowner]?” Instead of asking, “What is the address of this property?”, the company asked, “Is this the property at [address]?”

All the burglar had to do was answer yes to every question and the company recorded it as a false alarm.

Law enforcement seized the recordings of every such call and were able to use voice matching to prove that every burglary had been committed by the same man. When that man was finally caught trying to sell one of the stolen items online, he was arrested, tried, and convicted for every burglary. He spent a few years in state prison.

In the end, very few of the homeowners ever received compensation after being burgled. The alarm company declared bankruptcy and dissolved immediately after their negligent behavior was exposed, which somehow allowed them to avoid lawsuits from the homeowners. A few of the many stolen items were recovered from pawn shops and online markets, but most of the items were generic enough that they were never found again. And because the burglar didn’t have much going for him in terms of financial assets, any civil lawsuits filed against him would have earned such a small settlement that very few of the homeowners went ahead with such lawsuits.

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