BBB is alerting seniors and caretakers to be wary of phone calls or voicemails from a company offering a “free” personal alarm system. BBB Serving Greater Cleveland has reported an influx of inquiries in recent days about a company using a variety of different names such as “Medical Emergency,” “Medical Alert Company,” “First Alert Company,” “Life Alert USA,” and “Medical Alarms Hewlett.” The company claims to be offering a “free” medical alert system and tells the listener that the system will be provided to them because a family member or a friend believes they should have it, and that the system and shipping is already paid for. In many cases, seniors who have provided their bank account or credit card information to “verify” their identity have found they were charged the monthly service fee, usually around $35.00, then the system never arrived or they had trouble returning it and obtaining a refund.
A Cleveland woman reported to BBB in mid-May that Medical Alarms Hewlett called her, offering a new system. At first, she thought it may have been the same brand her late husband had used. When the product arrived, she realized it wasn’t the brand she assumed it was and called the company to get directions to return it. The company hung up on her at first, but she eventually got through to someone who told her to ship it back to Life Alert USA at a Lynbrook, NY address. (BBB records show a company named Lifewatch, Inc. at that address.) She is still disputing a $34.95 monthly service fee that was debited to her account.
“These companies, they use so many names and they all sound alike, Medical Alert, Alert Services, Medical Life System, Alert USA…It’s confusing and they know that.” she said. The use of names that are similar to well known marketers of medical alert devices is a problem. So much so that Life Alert, the California company made famous by its “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” advertising, is suing two businesses it says are using its name in “robo-calls” to gain new customers.
The lawsuit charges LifeWatch USA and Connect America with impersonating Life Alert through fraudulent “robo-calls” and other telemarketing to obtain new customers. Both companies deny the allegations and this matter is pending.
Callers have been described as “pushy” and may use scare tactics to intimidate seniors into providing sensitive information. “Unfortunately our seniors are at the highest risk of being victimized by deceptive sales tactics and targeted for identity theft” says David Weiss, President of BBB Serving Greater Cleveland. “While pushy sales tactics aren’t themselves illegal, we encourage seniors and their caretakers alike to ask questions and to look for red flags associated with a scam.”
Additionally, BBB is warning consumers not to provide sensitive personal or financial information to cold-calling companies. Notes Weiss “One never knows what ethically-challenged companies or employees will do with sensitive customer information, but it could easily lead to identity theft and financial loss.”
BBB advised consumers to watch for these 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 charges. If the telemarketer says a friend or family member bought the unit, ask for the name of the person and verify with them 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 – Listen for language like “this offer is good for today only!”
Implied Endorsement or Affiliation with Legitimate Entities – If a seller claims its product has been endorsed by another reputable organization, check directly with that organization for verification.
Refuses to Answer Questions Directly, Provide Contact Info, or Complete Offer Details – Tell the caller you will not provide any information or make any decisions until you get all details in writing.
(Contributors, authors, or editors – Sara Jennings, Sue McConnell, David Weiss)