At the beginning of July, the Better Business Bureau serving Nebraska, South Dakota, the Kansas Plains and Southwest Iowa received a significant increase in calls from consumers stating that someone had called to inform them that a medical alert device, similar to “Life Alert” had been purchased for them by a friend or family member. They were told that there is “no cost whatsoever” for the recipient and it will be delivered at no charge.
Many seniors told the BBB they were unsure of the company name. In many cases, seniors who provided their bank account or credit card information to “verify” their identity found they were charged the monthly service fee, usually about $35, then the system never arrived or they had trouble returning it and obtaining a refund.
“These kinds of calls are very suspicious due to the secretive nature and lack of full disclosure,” said BBB President and CEO Jim Hegarty. “The purpose seems to be to convince seniors to accept the gift and then provide sensitive personal and financial information.
The BBB advises consumers to watch for the following red flags when dealing with telemarketers or rob calls:
- “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. Nonetheless, don’t fall for scare tactics.
- Calls for immediate action — Listen for language like “This offer is good for today only!”
- Reluctance 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.
Those who receive these kinds of calls can file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. While the FCC cannot award monetary or other damages, filing a complaint allows them to investigate violators.
Consumers who receive these calls can report them to the Better Business Bureau at 800-649-6814, BBB’s toll free Senior Line at 877-637-3334 or to the state Attorney General. The BBB also can help consumers find a business they can trust.