BBB Says Beware Of Free Phone Ads

March 12, 2014

DAYTON, OHIO, March 12, 2014 – In a local newspaper yesterday, a full-page ad ran promoting free mobile phones for seniors. But, those phones are actually not free. One consumer reported to your BBB he called about the offer. The advertising company charged a total of $120.31 to his credit card due to his response to the ad. Most of the charge was an activation fee of $97.

The company making the offer is Senior Mobile – Brilliant Built Technologies, which is located at 8000 Freedom Ave. NW, Canton, OH. The company has an F rating with your BBB. The factors that have lowered the company’s rating to the BBB’s lowest rating are:

- Length of time business has been operating

- 37 serious complaints filed against business

- Advertising issue(s) found by BBB

- Business has failed to resolve underlying cause(s) of a pattern of complaints

In total, the company has had 195 complaints closed with your BBB in the last three years, 71 of which closed in the last 12 months.

Beginning in May of 2013, your BBB started receiving calls regarding the company’s product called Senior Mobile. Calls have indicated consumer confusion as to what is being offered. BBB investigation has revealed the company is selling a phone designed to appeal to senior citizens that comes with 100 minutes. The phone’s main feature is highlighted due to its one touch safety button designed to instantly contact emergency medical, police, fire and rescue. The company highlights this service will be provided for free. Consumers should be aware the FCC’s basic 911 rules require wireless service providers to transmit all 911 calls to a PSAP, regardless of whether the caller subscribes to the provider’s service or not. Consumers need to understand this service is essentially always free. BBB investigations have found the offer being presented is a prepaid service, and consumers have the option of obtaining additional minutes at cost. 

BBB contacted the company again in August of last year with concerns regarding their Senior Mobile advertisement. The company did respond to the challenge and modified/substantiated their advertisement, however the BBB still has the following outstanding concerns.

Use of the word “free.”  During recent shops, BBB found the company offers a cell phone with 100 minutes for $97. Based on BBB investigation, the activation fee seems to cover the price of the offer and provide a profit for the company. Guidelines state if there is a condition to a free offer it cannot be increased to cover the cost of what’s being given away for free. Additionally the free offer must be temporary otherwise it would become a continuous combination offer, no part of which is free. BBB asked the company to address this issue. The company responded stating the promotion is not a stand alone offer of a free item, but rather a free with purchase offer. The company further explained the advertisement clearly and conspicuously discloses the $97 cost. The company provided examples of programs that offer a free cell phone for seniors. BBB investigation showed Lycomobile, the minute provider used by Senior Mobile, sells pay as you go plans at two to four cents per min costing anywhere from $2 to $4. This along with activation is essential, according to the company, to selecting the proper price point. BBB questions the activation fee which ranges anywhere from $50 to $199 depending on the sales representative. BBB still feels the company has inflated the cost of these two items to cover the cost of what’s being given away for free. 

The company seems to specifically target seniors in their advertisement even quoting “Who gets the Senior Mobile Phones Free”. However, BBB investigated and found there are no age requirements in purchasing the products. The ad implies it’s specifically meant for seniors, which is not the case and your BBB finds this to be deceptive. BBB asked the company to address this issue. In the company response, they misinterpreted your BBB’s challenge when they asked the question why do they need to address this when the advertisement is directed to seniors. They stated they don’t prevent non-seniors from placing an order by establishing a minimum age requirement. The company further positioned that the offer is not limited to senior citizens and it does not need to be. Your BBB’s challenge was not geared towards asking the company to establish an age requirement, but rather towards the deception of implying the offer was meant for seniors only, when it is not.

In the ads, the company also includes an article that talks about the importance of cell phones for emergencies which is then followed by their cell phone advertisement. BBB feels this is misleading and was implemented to instill fear and urgency for the viewing audience to purchase their product. The company in their response provided statistics showing the importance of cell phones for seniors and further states that the advertisement does not instill fear or scare tactics. It merely acknowledges the reality many seniors are already faced with and provides a potential solution through low cost cellular service. BBB feels use of the headline “U.S. Gov’t Urges Citizens to Carry Cell Phones” is overstated and taken out of context.  In the ad, it states in a safe and secure memo issued by the U.S. Department of Interior, a government agency that protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future, urges citizens to carry them.  

John North, president and CEO of the BBB serving Dayton and the Miami Valley, says, “This is a good example of why it’s important to do your research and read the fine print before committing to doing business with companies. You can Start With Trust by checking businesses out with your BBB by visiting or calling (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301.”

About Your BBB Serving Dayton and the Miami Valley

For more than 100 years, your Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2012, people turned to your BBB 124 million times for Business Reviews on more than 4.5 million companies and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at BBB serving Dayton and the Miami Valley is one of 112 local, independent BBBs across the United States and Canada. To further promote trust, your BBB also offers dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints and industry self-regulation programs. BBB serving Dayton and the Miami Valley serves seven and half Ohio counties, including Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Shelby and northern Warren counties.