The Federal Trade Commission and the Florida Attorney General’s Office is charging a New York-based operation, Lifewatch, with using “blatantly illegal and deceptive robocalls” to get older consumers throughout the United States and Canada into signing up for medical alert systems, with monthly monitoring fees from $29.95 to $39.95.
“This company violated the Do Not Call Registry to deceive seniors, not only in Florida but across the country, and we will continue to work with the FTC to do everything in our power to make sure the individuals responsible for this scheme pay,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Since 2012, Lifewatch has been “bombarding consumers – primarily elderly consumers – with millions of unsolicited robocalls,” according to a joint complaint filed by the FTC and the Florida AG.
These calls are often placed to consumers whose numbers are on the National Do Not Call Registry, and typically use fake, “spoofed” caller ID information. They also use pre-recorded messages, including one supposedly from “John from the shipping department of Emergency Medical Alert,” to falsely tell the consumers that a medical alert system has been purchased for them, and they can receive it “at no cost whatsoever.”
Consumers who press a number to speak with a live operator are told that even though the system costs over $400, they will get it for free.
“However, the telemarketers refuse to answer questions about who bought the system for them, and tell consumers the offer is only good for one day,” the FTC said in a statement. “Telemarketers often use the well-known phrase, ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’ or tell consumers they may have seen the product on television, to add an air of legitimacy to the sales pitch.”
Eventually, consumers are told they will be responsible for a monthly monitoring fee and that they must provide their credit card or bank account information. They often also are told that they will not be billed until they receive and “activate” the system, although they actually are charged almost immediately. Those who later realize they have been tricked discover that it is very difficult to cancel, and are told they have to pay to return the system or pay a $400 penalty, according to the complaint.
Many of the consumers the defendants called have fixed or limited incomes or rely on family members or health professionals to make financial decisions on their behalf, the complaint states.
The joint complaint charges the Lifewatch defendants with violating the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, as well as Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Defendants in the case include: Lifewatch, Inc., also doing business as Lifewatch USA and Medical Alarm Systems; and Evan Sirlin, individually and as an officer or manager of Lifewatch, Inc.
The agencies are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the defendants’ use of illegal robocalls and deceptive telemarketing claims, as well as funds for eventual restitution to victims.