CONSUMER FORUM

New twist on old scam

Posted Sept. 08, 2013, at 3:02 p.m.

Maine’s seniors are becoming really savvy.

Not only are they hanging up on would-be scam callers, they’re reporting them to law enforcement people. The legal people are looking into the scam attempts, and everyone’s getting better informed about ways to keep our money in our pockets, instead of handing it over to crooks.

That’s what smart consumerism is all about. Just last week, consumers in eastern Maine were put to the test with a new twist on an old scam offer revolving around medical alert services. And, don’t we love it when the scammers try to prey on seniors, and the seniors do the phone equivalent of spitting in their eyes!

The pitch went like this: Pony up whatever they ask for ultimately and they’ll throw in “grocery savings certificates” worth THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS at 100 grocery chains across the U.S. (are those magazine coupons??). The pitch continues, “In addition to your $3,000 in savings certificates you will receive a free emergency medic alert bracelet or necklace,” which of course will save your life if you’ve fallen and you can’t get up. (We’ve written about these lifeline offers before; see Consumer Forum, June 3, 2013).

At least two consumers who received the above call did not bite; instead, they called the Eastern Area Agency on Aging, telling people there that a scam was afoot. The folks at EAAA reported the consumers’ experiences to the Maine Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which loves to keep track of such robocall violations of its Do Not Call rules. Since Penobscot County TRIAD, a coalition of seniors’ advocates and law enforcement personnel is based at EAAA, the Penobscot Sheriff’s Department was alerted as well.

The scam artists know that millions of people have gotten wise to their promises of “free” medical alert devices, only to be slapped with a monthly fee for the “service” that comes with the devices. Sometimes there’s no service at all, although the charges keep coming every month. Sometimes the scammers don’t even get a signature, saying that “a relative signed you up” and not to worry because “your insurance covers any costs.”

As our savvy consumers did last week, the time to head off these crooks is the moment they try to strike. They ask you to “press 1 for more information or 5 to be removed from this offer.” Don’t press anything; simply hang up. If you’re in the national Do Not Call registry, the caller has broken the law simply by calling. Don’t give the lawbreaker the information that his robot has reached a working number by pressing a button that verifies the phone is working. The scammers sell lists of working numbers to other crooks.

If you receive a suspicious call, simply hang up (it’s your phone; you choose how to use it). If the pitch gets far enough so you spot a scam attempt, report it to your local law enforcement agency. Let the FTC know (call 1-877-FTC-HELP or www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov to file a complaint online). In June, the FTC levied a record $7.5-million fine against a mortgage refinancing company for allegedly violating Do Not Call rules. Such cases often begin with complaints from consumers.

Despite the law and bad press, the scammers will keep trying, sugar-coating old scams with phony new promises. Don’t buy what they’re selling.

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 contacexdir@live.com.

 

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