Alert
Close

Last chance – give now. Before 2014 ends, help struggling seniors. Donate

AARP Bulletin

Scam Alert

'Free' Medical Alert Device Offers Harm, Not Help

No-cost deals trick people into sharing their personal information

medical alert personal system scam seniors review beware devices alarm complaints monitoring necklace chain device (iStockphoto)

Medicare, Medicaid and most insurance companies typically don't pay for medical alert equipment. — Alex Nabaum

En español | The calls can grab your attention as a grim recorded voice warns of increasing rates of death and injury from falls or other home-alone medical emergencies.

But the real incentive to proceed and "press 1" may be the promise of a free medical alert device that will quickly bring help when you need it the most.

Here's what is likely to happen if you press 1: A live telemarketer comes on the line, and what was touted as a no-charge offer becomes a full press to get your credit card or bank account information for supposed monitoring fees or other expenses associated with the device.

Give out that information and the possible result is identity theft.

Officials warn that scammers are behind many of these robocalls, sometimes stealing the names of reputable manufacturers or inventing corporate names that often include the word "senior."

Some of the callers falsely claim that your doctor ordered the device for you. Others — such as Instant Response Systems of New York, which was recently shut down following a Federal Trade Commission investigation — allegedly up the ante with legal threats.

"They called seniors claiming they had already ordered a medical alert device and threatening them with a lawsuit if they didn't pay," says FTC attorney Arturo DeCastro. Jason (aka Yaakov) Abraham, who runs Instant Response Systems, did not respond to telephoned requests for comment.

If you or a loved one needs a medical alert device, get recommendations from your health care provider or a social service agency.

When you call companies, ask for documentation about fees before providing payment accounts. Some hospitals and aging services agencies have subsidized programs. But if you don't qualify, you may need to pay a one-time installation fee of around $100 plus $1 to $2 per day for device rental and monitoring. Other companies require you to purchase the device.

You can foil scammers with these five tips:

1. Hang up on unsolicited offers: Don't even ask for sales information from cold callers: You could be targeted for "pay us or else" intimidation later on, says DeCastro.

2. Flee from claims that the device is free: A scammer might assert that that a product won't cost you because you have insurance. Know that Medicare, Medicaid and most insurance companies typically don't pay for this equipment. In rare cases when they do, a doctor's recommendation is required — and you'll know about it in advance.

3. Reject robocalls: They're illegal unless you have contacted the company. So assume that any unsolicited prerecorded sales call is the work of scammers.

4. Don't respond to offers to "opt out" of future calls: That alerts callers to a working number.

5. Don't pay for anything you didn't order: "Even if legal action is threatened," says DeCastro.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

Also of Interest

Visit the AARP home page every day for great deals and for tips on keeping healthy and sharp

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Video Extra

IDENTITY THEFT: Even the dead aren't safe. Learn how to keep thieves from stealing a deceased loved one's name and personal information.

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

The Cheap Life

Jeff Yeager Cheap Life Ultimate Cheapskate AARP YouTube web series save money

Catch the latest episode of The Cheap Life starring Jeff Yeager, AARP's Ultimate Cheapskate. Watch

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Life insurance: you are covered rain or shine

Exclusive annuities for members from AARP Lifetime Income Program from New York Life.

AARP Credit card from Chase

Members can get cash back rewards on purchases with the AARP® Credit Card from Chase.

Homeowners Insurance
Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points

Advance your skills. Transform your career.

Explore your learning possibilities.