June 26, 2013 at 7:50 AM ET
A new barrage of annoying robocalls is targeting seniors across the country with the promise of a free medical alert system. And not just any system – the recorded message says it's Life Alert – the original "I've fallen and can't get up" product advertised on TV.
The sales pitch is convincing, but it's a lie – and unfortunately people are falling for this clever come-on.
Hugh Farrell received five of these robocalls recently. The 80-year old, who lives in Rockwall, Texas, says the pitch was mighty appealing.
"It went like this," Farrell said. "We have a medic alert system for you and it's all been paid for, and all we need from you is permission to ship it to you."
Farrell was suspicious, so he hung up and called his daughters. He thought maybe they had purchased a system and wanted to surprise him. They had not.
When Farrell called the Better Business Bureau in Dallas, they told him the call was a scam.
"This is just a way to sell you this service, a service that you may or may not want," explained Jeannette Kopko, senior vice president of communications at the Better Business Bureau of Dallas.
Talk to that live salesperson and they'll try to get your credit or debit card number, Kopko said. They may even ask for your Medicare number – that's your Social Security number – something you should never give to a stranger on the phone.
The next thing you know, you're billed $35 a month for that supposedly free medical alert system.
"Just because they describe a product that everybody's seen on TV doesn't mean it's the company you think it is," Kopko warned.
So what do you get?
The BBB has heard from people who took the bait. Some did receive a medical alert product – but not the Life Alert system. Others said they didn't get anything. Either way, there's that monthly fee to deal with – not exactly free.
And once you fall for the pitch and give out your credit or debit card number, it isn't easy to cancel.
Geraldine Standiford, a 60-year old widow who lives in Cleveland, got the call and agreed to the monthly charge. After she hung up, she realized she had made a mistake.
She called the company to cancel, but the equipment arrived anyway. She found a debit for $34.95 from her checking account.
After filing a complaint with the Cleveland BBB and waiting for more than a month, Geraldine got her money back.
"I feel very lucky," she said. "They could have kept billing me for $34.95 every month."
Life Alert, the real company, has posted a fraud alert on its website warning people about the imposters:
The recordings sound like a real person claiming that either "someone has purchased a Life Alert system for you," or that "You qualify for a free Life Alert."Other calls may say they are calling from a shipping department to confirm a free order or to send upgraded Life Alert equipment.
All of these are telemarketing scammers trying to mislead and defraud consumers by using our trademarked name so they can get your address, credit card number and bank information to charge you.
We would like to remind you that Life Alert does not employ telemarketers or perform cold calls so if you do receive a recorded call saying they are Life Alert or the "I've fallen and can't get up" people, please DO NOT press the #1 button to talk to a sales person.
"Since everyone knows our company and our trademarked slogan, a lot of seniors fall for this scam," said Olga Vlasova, vice president of marketing at Life Alert Emergency Response, Inc.
Life Alert said it is now working with authorities to track down who is making these unsolicited and unauthorized calls.
How to beat the bad guys
It's important to remember these fraud fighting tips. These apply to all unsolicited telemarketing calls:
Unfortunately, you can receive illegal robocalls even if your phone number is on the National Do Not Call registry.These calls are coming from crooks, often in a foreign country. They really don't care about violating the Do Not Call rules – that is, unless they get caught.
If you've fallen for this medic alert scam,contact your bank or credit card issuer right away. Then file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, your state consumer protection office and the Federal Trade Commission.