Dozens of Sacramento-area residents are complaining about automated phone calls offering "free" medic alert products. Instead, the "free" offer results in monthly fees that start appearing on their credit cards, according to complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau of Northeast California.
"They say a friend or family member recommended them for a 'free' medic alert device. But they get hounded into giving out their credit card information ... then find they're being billed a monthly fee of $35," said BBB spokeswoman Cailin Peterson.
She said consumer complaints have come in from Auburn, Roseville and Stockton in recent weeks.
In other cases, the caller says a free medical-alert device has already been ordered for them, but the company needs to schedule a delivery or installation appointment, or asks for credit card or bank account information for service charges.
The automated "robo calls" sound as though they're from a legitimate medical-alert system, such as Life Alert or Medic Alert, which sell medical I.D. bracelets and emergency responders for seniors. On its website, the MedicAlert Foundation warns consumers that scammers are fraudulently using its name to "inappropriately solicit consumers."
"No one can figure out where the calls are originating," said Peterson. The first reports started coming into BBB offices in Wisconsin earlier this year, she said, but have since spread across the country. At least three medic-alert companies contacted by BBB officials have all denied being the source of the automated calls, Peterson said.
In California, "robo calls" made by automatic dialing devices are illegal in most cases. The only time they are legitimate is if:
You are already a member or client of the company or organization initiating the phone call.
An emergency-response system is leaving a message about a local emergency situation.
Or a live person announces the nature of the call, gives the company's contact information and obtains your consent to hear the pre-recorded message.
If you receive an unsolicited call, the BBB suggests:
Get specifics. The Federal Trade Commission requires that "free" offers disclose all terms and conditions.
If you think it's a phony call, hang up immediately. Keep a record of the number on your caller ID. Be wary of doing business with someone calling from a blocked number.
Do not give credit card or Medicare numbers to callers you do not know.
Take your time in making a decision. Beware of salespeople who claim an offer is "only good today."
If you think the call is illegal, file a complaint with your telephone company, the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission.