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The following describes a pending government action that has been formally brought by a government agency but has not yet been resolved. We are providing a summary of the government’s allegations, which have not yet been proven.
On July 6, 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a joint complaint with the Florida Attorney General’s Office charging a New York-based operation known as Lifewatch with using blatantly illegal and deceptive robocalls to trick older consumers throughout the United States and Canada into signing up for medical alert systems with monthly monitoring fees ranging from $29.95 to $39.95. Last year one of Lifewatch’s telemarketing firms, Worldwide Info Services, agreed to be banned from making robocalls or engaging in other deceptive conduct, to settle charges brought by the FTC and State of Florida. In the July 6 complaint, the FTC and Attorney General allege that Lifewatch knew of, and is responsible for, the illegal activities in that case, and that Lifewatch simply continued its telemarketing campaign using a variety of other telemarketers after Worldwide was shut down.
According to the joint complaint, since 2012 Lifewatch has been bombarding consumers – primarily elderly consumers – with millions of unsolicited robocalls. These calls are often placed to consumers whose numbers are on the National Do Not Call Registry, and typically use fake, “spoofed” caller ID information. They also use pre-recorded messages, including one supposedly from “John from the shipping department of Emergency Medical Alert,” to falsely tell the consumers that a medical alert system has been purchased for them, and they can receive it “at no cost whatsoever.” Consumers who press a number to speak with a live operator are told that even though the system costs over $400, they will get it for free. However, the telemarketers refuse to answer questions about who bought the system for them, and tell consumers the offer is only good for one day. Eventually, consumers are told they will be responsible for a monthly monitoring fee and that they must provide their credit card or bank account information. They often also are told that they will not be billed until they receive and “activate” the system, although they actually are charged almost immediately. Those who later realize they have been tricked discover that it is very difficult to cancel, and are told they have to pay to return the system or pay a $400 penalty, according to the complaint. Many of the consumers the defendants called have fixed or limited incomes or rely on family members or health professionals to make financial decisions on their behalf, the complaint states.
The joint complaint charges the Lifewatch defendants with violating the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, as well as Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Defendants in the case include: Lifewatch, Inc., also doing business as Lifewatch USA and Medical Alarm Systems; and Evan Sirlin, individually and as an officer or manager of Lifewatch, Inc. The agencies are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the defendants’ use of illegal robocalls and deceptive telemarketing claims, as well as funds for eventual restitution to victims.
As of March 31, 2016, the FTC and the Florida AG’s motion for a preliminary injunction was granted by a District Court in Illinois.