KVTU reported that a fake fire alarm technician allegedly used a legitimate contractor’s license number and credentials improperly, “servicing” fire alarm systems throughout the bay area. When one of the systems the supposed technician serviced suffered a catastrophic failure in the Mission District of San Francisco in 2015, six people were injured and one person died.
The company that the technician claimed to work for later stated they had never heard of the technician. As of May 17th, the owner of the building and the technician are currently in wrongful-death litigation, and the technician is under active investigation by the California Contractors State Licensing Board to determine how many other life safety systems might have been compromised.
As bizarre and tragic as this case was, situations like this are preventable with a little due diligence. Here are some tips to help property owners and managers spot fake technicians and verify the real ones!
- Know who your life safety systems contractor is and when to expect them.
Scammers and scams come in all shapes, sizes and forms. Ask for the technician’s company name and if it doesn’t match up with your contract information, do not allow access without further vetting. While, yes, sometimes people decide to “test drive” different contractors when bidding a project or in preparation for switching services, it is important to let key contacts know this is the case and what the anticipated timelines are so everyone knows what is happening, and doesn’t inadvertently allow someone who shouldn’t be there or deny someone who should. Legitimate companies do not usually have technicians show up “out of the blue.”
- Ask for identification.
While it’s not always comfortable, it is always a good idea to get the name of the person or people who are working on your life safety system. A business card or even a website is easy to fake, and anyone can do both for less than $100, plus a little time and technical and artistic savvy. If the person’s state ID or company name doesn’t match with your contractor of record, do not allow access!
- Verify the person’s identity and qualifications.
Licensed companies and contractors’ names are listed in a statewide database by both name and license number. Not every technician is necessarily licensed, and may work for a company under their license number. However, if the identity listed on their driver’s license and the company name cannot be matched to a listing in the Contractors State Licensing Board website, stop.
- Contact the company directly.
A legitimate contractor will have no issues being able to verify an employee’s identity and licensing information, as well as affirming that the person in question was dispatched to the given location to perform specific services. Be sure to check any information the contractor gives you against the Contractors State Licensing Board’s website to verify authenticity. If you cannot reach a live person to verify the employee’s identity, including name and license number or other credentials, do not allow access.
- Check the uniform.
If the person is wearing a uniform, double-check the uniform’s specifications and describe the uniform to the dispatcher in detail. If the uniform’s details don’t match up and any other factor seems incorrect, do not allow access.
- Trust your gut.
If something “feels” wrong, you have every right to refuse access to the property and safety systems until and unless you can verify the technician’s bona fides. That prickling feeling is a few billion years of evolutionary success telling you something isn’t right, so please don’t ignore it! If anything seems amiss, even after checking with the company and CSLB, you can refuse access while you contact the nearest fire or police station at their non-emergency numbers and request further verification or intervention as needed. While these options should be kept as a last resort, so as not to needlessly tie up responders’ time, they are still valid responses in circumstances where the prior steps did not garner the appropriate responses.
While no vetting system is bulletproof, these steps can go a long way toward giving you, your employees and your tenants peace of mind knowing your life safety systems are being serviced by qualified, legitimate personnel. For more information on vetting life safety technicians, or to schedule a site inspection for your life safety systems, we invite you to contact Statcomm.