At first we thought we were out in front of the story: People posing as representatives of a medical alert company were cold calling Maine seniors and offering them free medical alert devices. All the seniors had to do was fork over some personal financial information (and, in the process, open their bank accounts to the callers).
Then, last Wednesday, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills issued a news release calling the whole thing a scam. She cautioned seniors not to give any personal or financial data to these frauds calling their company Life Watch, or anyone else who called out of the blue. Not only that, she said the officers of sound-alike Life Alert are suing a couple of outfits it says are misrepresenting themselves.
“Legitimate companies do not operate like this,” Mills said in the release. “This scam is particularly insidious because it trades on the well-known brand of Life Alert, which is intended for very vulnerable senior citizens.”
There are several tip-offs that the call is not on the level. First, as Mills pointed out, honest companies don’t make random robot calls, putting a sales person on once the phone is answered and turning up the heat. A second clue concerned the pitch itself.
When the first call came to our home, a heavily-accented seller needed prompting before revealing that, while the alert device itself is “free,” my service plan would cost about a dollar a day. The second flag went up when, asked about the cancellation policy, she said, “Just give us a call.” That’s scammer code for, “We’ll just ignore you.”
I asked to speak with a supervisor, and another thickly accented person (who told me his name was “Mr. Lennie Allen”) said his firm was the “only EMT-certified” provider of “the preferred medical alert monitor” (EMS officials we spoke with weren’t sure what those terms meant). “Lennie” added that his firm had “100 percent customer satisfaction” (probably the first ever in our notebook) and that it was “endorsed by the American Diabetes Association.” A call to that organization confirmed that it “does not test advertised products, does not conduct independent scientific reviews and does not ensure the safety and efficacy of their claims.” Pants on fire, Lennie.
A second caller to our home asked for my wife by her legal name, which she never uses. “Where did you get my name?” she asked.
“Uh, well, we make random calls…”
“But I’m on the National Do-Not-Call list.” A hurried apology, and away the caller went.
The people who really run Life Alert are so steamed they’re suing the folks they say are responsible for thousands of seniors nationwide being ripped off and their company’s reputation suffering “tremendous” damage. They’ll have lots of ammunition; the Better Business Bureau says in February 2011 it requested that Life Watch “cease and desist all unauthorized use of the BBB name and logo in its promotional materials.” During our conversation, “Lennie” told me his firm had an A-plus rating from the Bureau (pants now in ashes).
Maine seniors who believe they have been a target of this scam should call the A.G.’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-436-2131 or email consumer.mediation@Maine.gov.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.