Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

Get advice on money matters from The Bee's Claudia Buck and a panel of local experts

July 2, 2013
Beware of phony 'medic alert' offers, says BBB

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.

About Comments

Reader comments on are the opinions of the writer, not The Sacramento Bee. If you see an objectionable comment, click the "report abuse" button below it. We will delete comments containing inappropriate links, obscenities, hate speech, and personal attacks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. See more about comments here.

What You Should Know About Comments on is happy to provide a forum for reader interaction, discussion, feedback and reaction to our stories. However, we reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments or ban users who can't play nice. (See our full terms of service here.)

Here are some rules of the road:

• Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "report abuse" button to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.

• Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.

• Do not attack other users; focus your comments on issues, not individuals.

• Stay on topic. Only post comments relevant to the article at hand. If you want to discuss an issue with a specific user, click on his profile name and send him a direct message.

• Do not copy and paste outside material into the comment box.

• Don't repeat the same comment over and over. We heard you the first time.

• Do not use the commenting system for advertising. That's spam and it isn't allowed.

• Don't use all capital letters. That's akin to yelling and not appreciated by the audience.

You should also know that The Sacramento Bee does not screen comments before they are posted. You are more likely to see inappropriate comments before our staff does, so we ask that you click the "report abuse" button to submit those comments for moderator review. You also may notify us via email at Note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us the profile name of the user who made the comment. Remember, comment moderation is subjective. You may find some material objectionable that we won't and vice versa.

If you submit a comment, the user name of your account will appear along with it. Users cannot remove their own comments once they have submitted them, but you may ask our staff to retract one of your comments by sending an email to Again, make sure you note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us your profile name.

hide comments

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.

Meet Our Financial Experts

Claudia Buck

Claudia Buck is The Sacramento Bee's personal finance columnist. Read all her columns here. Contact her at

Terri Carpenter

Terri Carpenter offers advice on job hunting, retraining and career counseling. Carpenter works at Sacramento Works Inc., the career and job training arm of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA). With 15 years in the field, she has hands-on experience with everyone from first-time job seekers to career professionals seeking advice after a layoff or looking for a mid-career change. Ask her a question.

Carlena Tapella

Carlena Tapella is a partner in the law firm of Webb & Tapella Law Corp. in Sacramento. The firm specializes in estate planning and probate, such as estates, trusts, conservatorships and litigation. She is a past president of the Sacramento County Bar Association's Estate Planning & Probate Section. Ask her a question.

Kimberly Foss

Kimberly Foss, certified financial planner, is the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville. With nearly 30 years in the financial industry, her clients include women in transition, small business owners, retirees and "pre-retirees." Ask her a question.

Jesse Weller

Gregory Burke, a CPA and tax expert with John Waddell & Co. in Sacramento since 1984, worked as an IRS tax auditor for six years. He’s a past chairman of the California Society of CPAs. Ask him a question.

Daniel Tahara

Daniel Tahara takes your questions about California taxes. Tahara, a spokesman for the state Franchise Tax Board, has 10 years of experience as a tax auditor. Ask him a question.

Personal Finance columns

October 2013

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31