A North Potomac reader wrote recently wondering if the tax she's charged by her security system company for monitoring services is legitimate.

"The last invoice we received included a sales tax," Mary-Alice Berlin said. "Since when has a state required a sales tax for a service?"

Answer: Since 1992 in Maryland, when the state added a list of seven "services" it decided to tax. "The security system itself is considered real property and therefore taxable," explained an auditor in the compliance division of the Maryland Comptroller of the Treasury, in Baltimore.

Residential and commercial monitoring "is considered a taxable service," as are other security services provided by private detectives, armored cars, guard dogs, bodyguards and private guards.

You should note, however, that charges for installing a commercial or residential security service that improves the property are not taxable.

The taxable nontangibles as of 1992 in The Free State? Cellular telephone and other mobile telecommunications services such as beeper charges, telephone answering services, custom calling services including call forwarding, caller identification, tele-conferencing, and rapid dial (but not routine phone services such as touch tone, operator assistance, directory assistance and long distance); 900-type telephone services; pay-per-view TV services; and credit reporting services.

Maryland residents who need clarification on tax questions will find that the Taxpayer Service Section of the Comptroller's office provides friendly advice at 410-767-1300, or 800-492-1751 (toll-free in Maryland).

Bad Sock Monkeys

Restoration Hardware Inc. last week recalled some 12,000 Sock Monkeys after a Utah consumer reported finding sewing needles or pins in the the stuffed animals that injured an 18-month-old girl's lip. The California company subsequently discovered needles and pins in 17 monkeys in store inventories.

Made of brown tweed-like knit fabric, the recalled sock monkeys stand 16-20 inches tall and have white hands and feet, red lips, black felt eyes, a brown-and-white knit cap on their heads and a red patch directly under the tail.

Restoration Hardware sold the $29 monkeys via its stores, catalogues and Web site from October 1997 through May 1999.

If you own a recalled monkey, return it to any Restoration Hardware store for a refund and a discount merchandise certificate. For more information, call the company at 877-747-4671.

To report a dangerous product or a product-related injury, call the Consumer Product Safety Commission's hotline at 800-638-2772, or by e-mail at info@cpsc.gov.

Got a consumer complaint? A question? A Smart Consumer Trick? E-mail details to oldenburgd@washpost.com or write Don Oldenburg, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, 20071.