According to the National Council On Aging (NCOA), every 11 seconds, a senior goes to the emergency room for a fall. The fact is that falls are the number one cause of fatal injuries in the US. Based on those terrifying statistics, it is easy to see why many seniors are interested in a personal emergency response system, but you need to keep an eye out for medical alert scams.
Unfortunately, scammers use facts about falls to scare seniors into giving them their personal information. Millions of seniors live alone, and it is a scary thought that you might fall without any way of requesting help; that is a real fear and the reason why life alert systems were invented. Scammers have been preying on seniors using medical alert scams ever since emergency alert systems hit the market.
These types of scams have stolen millions of dollars from trusting seniors all over the country, which is why it is so vital to learn how to identify these scams as well as how to avoid them. Also, we will cover what actions you should take if you are a victim of one of these scams.
Top 3 Medical Alert Scams
Most, though not all, medical alert scams start with an illegal robocall. Unless you have provided written permission to one of these companies to solicit you, these robocalls are unlawful.
The robocalls may start with a recorded voice listing scary statistics or state that you are eligible for a free medical alert system. Regardless of which recording the scammers choose to use, it is followed with the instruction of pressing one to continue or pressing an alternative number to be removed from the call list.
Many of the free offers of a medical alert system will make the claim that someone has already paid for it, such as:
- A family member who would like to remain anonymous
- The AARP is sending a free medical alert system to all of their members
- The senior’s insurance company is paying for it
- The American Heart Association is sending out medical alert systems to eligible seniors
The scammer will follow up asking for credit card or bank account information stating that though the system is paid for, the membership or monthly monitoring service isn’t.
These calls work because of scare tactics and the appeal of free products. Unfortunately, the only thing you will receive is a monthly charge on your credit card—these scams bill seniors for fake services.
These medical alert scams often come in the form of a phone call as well; it could be a live person or a robocall. However, these callers claim to be from a reputable, well-known company such as Medicare, MedicAlert, or Life Alert. The caller may offer a free trial service or may use a similar sales pitch as the robocallers stating someone else has paid for the system, but not the service.
By using a trusted name, scammers can work their magic all the faster. And those especially good at scamming will program the call to appear on your caller-id with the name of the company they are pretending to represent.
It is challenging to determine which calls are legitimate or fake since some companies like MedicAlert, a nonprofit company, solicit funds by calling seniors.
Most of these calls falsely representing a legitimate company are identity theft scams. The caller will ask for personal information such as your address, Social Security number, full name, and so on. The caller doesn’t even have to ask you for credit card information to steal from you. After getting the information they need, they can set up credit cards in your name without your knowledge.
Often by the time a victim of identity theft realizes what has happened, the criminal has already charged thousands of dollars in their name.
There have been multiple companies that have been shut down by the government for scamming seniors into paying for fake medical alert services; one such company was Instant Response Systems out of New York.
Here is how The Threat scam works; the caller will claim the senior has placed an order for a medical alert system, but the company has not yet received payment. When the senior states they didn’t order the product or service, the scammer will accuse them of lying and threaten to take legal action if the senior doesn’t pay them immediately.
The scammers making these calls are very aggressive and can be quite intimidating, which is why and how the scam works. These calls can be very scary and nerve-racking, but the best thing you can do is hang up.
Though it may seem difficult to hang up when someone is threatening legal action, and all you want to do is explain your side, the whole thing is a big sham, so there is no need to stay on the phone.
How to Avoid Being a Medical Alert Scam Victim
When you pick up the phone and hear a pre-recorded message, hang up immediately. Some of these messages start with “Don’t Hang Up!” or “This is an urgent message” if you hear this, hang up.
Hanging up on a robocall or a live person claiming you have received a free medical alert system is the best defense to avoid being scammed. If you stay on the line and listen to their spiel, it is easy to get wrapped up into the lies they are trying to sell.
Do not attempt to end the call politely, because the caller will continue to try to engage you in conversation. The best and fastest way to get out of the situation is to end the call immediately.
Do Not Press Any Number
Do not press any number based on the robocaller’s instructions, even if its to be removed from their call list. This message is only fishing to find out if the phone number dialed is a working number. Often if you direct them not to call any further, you will receive even more solicitation calls.
Decline Free Medical Alert Devices
Unexpected solicitation calls offering free medical alert devices are a red flag you are about to be scammed. When in doubt, ask yourself, is that too good to be true? If the answer is yes, it is time to end the call.
If you are unsure if their pitch is legitimate or not, request a phone number to call them back or ask them to send more information in the mail, including their price list, so you can take time to read it over. Legitimate companies will be happy to provide you with this information. Scammers will either attempt to keep you on the phone, ignoring your request or hang up, realizing you are onto their scam.
Don’t Pay for Something You Didn’t Order
If you receive a threatening call from someone saying, “pay us or else,” hang up. You don’t need to pay for a product or service you didn’t request. If the caller threatens legal action, hang up. The caller is a criminal and has no legal action to take.
The threats of suing or contacting the police for products and services you ordered but didn’t pay for are entirely bogus. They may insist that they have a recorded phone call with you ordering the service, it isn’t true, hang up.
The bottom line is if you didn’t order it, you are not responsible for paying for it.
Avoid Giving Personal Information
Avoid giving personal information to any telemarketer. If you happen to be interested in the medical alert system they are selling, ask them to send you information, or tell them you will call them back. Do not trust a phone number they give you; instead, look up the phone number for the company on your own.
After you have taken the time to research the company and decide it is something you want to go with, then it is fine to call back and sign up giving them the information needed. It is is when you receive a call from a telemarketer that you need to exercise great caution and resist giving them any personal information.
Don’t Trust Caller ID
Caller ID was once an excellent tool to help weed out unwanted callers as well as verifying the identity of the caller. Unfortunately, smart scammers have figured out ways to trick your caller id, so that it reflects a name and phone number of a legitimate company or organization. Yet, they may not be calling from that company.
Scammers are smart and devious and have found many ways around the tools we have put in place to protect ourselves. If you receive a call from a company you believe is legitimate, call the company back to verify the validity of the offer.
How to Report Medical Alert Scams
If you believe you are a victim of a medical alert scam, you must report it to the FTC. Even if you haven’t been scammed and were only contacted, it is essential you notify the FTC.
By reporting scammers to the FTC, you help them shut down these groups and aid them in protecting unsuspecting seniors. You can call the FTC at 1-800-382-1222 or go online to ftc.gov/complaint.
If you see fraudulent charges on your credit card from a medical alert scam, call your credit card company and report it. The credit card company will reverse the fraudulent charges and work to ensure no future charges show up on your bill.