St. Louis, Mo., August 1, 2013 – The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning seniors and their families or caretakers of a medical alarm telemarketing scam that has been sweeping the nation this year, targeting residents of Missouri, Illinois and other states.
“The BBB advises consumers to hang up if they receive unsolicited calls for medical equipment from unfamiliar companies,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB president and CEO. “In many cases, these robo-calls are fraudulent attempts to obtain financial information that can be used to commit identity theft or that result in recurring charges to a victim’s credit card or bank account.”
In recent months, consumers have told the BBB that they have received calls – often repeatedly – from telemarketers offering a “senior medical alarm” or similar personal security device. The BBB has been unable to determine the source of the calls, which consumers said came from untraceable numbers in the 314, 636 and 573 area codes.
Some of the automated calls ask consumers to “punch 1” if they wish to order a device or want further information. In other cases, salespeople told consumers that they were eligible for a free system or that a system had been paid for on their behalf and the salesperson needed to confirm shipping instructions. The BBB believes that consumers who are receptive to the sales pitch will be asked for financial information to cover a monthly monitoring service fee of $34.95.
In many cases, senior citizens never received the devices but were still charged the monthly service fee. Others were unable to obtain refunds or return the items.
Better Business Bureaus across the nation have reported similar calls coming from companies using the names Medical Emergency, Medical Alert Company, First Alert Company, Life Alert USA, Lifewatch, Senior Safety Alert, Senior Emergency Care, Senior Safe Alert, Emergency Medical Alert Systems or Medical Alarms Hewitt.
Life Alert, the California firm that advertises “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” has sued two businesses that used names similar to its brand in robo-call marketing schemes. Life Alert also has posted a warning about the scammers on its website. The company says it does not employ telemarketers to make cold calls to potential customers.
“These calls are not made by Life Alert,” the company says on its website. “All of these are telemarketing scammers trying to mislead and defraud consumers by using our trademarked name so they can get your address, credit card number and bank information to charge you.”
The BBB warns consumers to beware of the following red flags:
- Free offers: Be wary of “free” offers that require you to pay a handling charge or other fees. In the case of medical alert systems, ask if there are additional monthly service charges. If the telemarketer says a friend or family member bought the unit, ask for the name of the person and verify the payment with that person before agreeing to anything.
- Scare tactics: Being trapped in your own home with no way to call for help can be a scary situation for anyone, but for many seniors, it can be a realistic scenario. Don’t fall for scare tactics.
- Calls for immediate action: If the caller says, “This offer is good for today only,” hang up.
- Implied endorsement: If a seller claims its product has been endorsed by another reputable organization, check directly with that organization to verify the endorsement.
- Refusal to answer questions: If the caller is evasive or refuses to provide contact information or complete offer details, tell them you will not provide any information or make any decisions until you get all details in writing.
Before you do business with a charity or company, check its BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.