One of my readers named Ed, who lives in Howard County, alerted me by email to a robocall scam targeting the elderly in the area. In his email, he directed me to a complaint he had left online at whocalled.us, and to links for "The Today Show" and Better Business Bureau stories about these "rogues" as he called them. He wrote, "Government fines don't seem to stop them but maybe word-of-mouth and media awareness will slow them down."
This particular scam deals with a medical alert device and is coming from a local phone number. The message that Ed left on Who Called Us follows: "Scammers who prey on the elderly. Now with a local number! Can't believe they're still operating. … I've been getting a call every 2-3 days for a couple of weeks, so they're already screwing more than a few of our local grandparents."
One of the links Ed provided, http://www.today.com/money/robocall-scammers-use-life-alert-swindle-seniors-6C10441574, took me to an article on the "The Today Show" website titled, "Robocall Scammers Use 'Life Alert' To Swindle Seniors," by Herb Weisbaum. I learned that these calls are targeting seniors across the country.
I had already heard from my sister in Upper Marlboro, that she had been receiving these calls, at periodic intervals almost every day, as early as 6 a.m. I had also checked with friends while out to lunch and each one of the seven at the table had received these calls.
Apparently, the sales pitch claiming to be from Life Alert is a convincing, but false, claim.
Unfortunately, seniors are falling for the scam because it is a product they have heard about for years. The caller says that someone has paid for a Life Alert system for you, and they need your permission to ship it to you, that you quality for a free system or they want information to confirm a free order.
The next step is for them to get your credit or debit card number. You should never give this information to a stranger over the phone.
If you fall for this scam, you are billed $35 a month for the "free" medical alert product. Some have received a medical alert device, but it isn't the one described as the product seen on TV.
The real Life Alert company has a fraud alert posted on its website to warn people about these impostors. To read the fraud alert, go to http://www.lifealert.com/fraudalert.aspx.
Shortly before beginning this column, I received a phone call. Caller ID showed "unknown name."
When I checked my voice mail message, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It was a recording of a woman's voice that said, "Senior citizens pay close attention to the following message. If you or a family member is 60 years old or older, you now qualify for a new national senior assistance program to receive $3,000 in free grocery savings certificates. In addition, you will receive a free medical alert bracelet or necklace designed to save your life if you experience a fall or some other emergency. Press one now to speak to a representative and have the $3,000 savings certificate sent directly to you and learn more about this risk free offer. Press five to be removed."
Since I was already in the mode to write about scams, I Googled the phone number, which appeared to be a local number. It listed several sites with complaints about the medical alert scam calls and at least one entry with the $3,000 food savings certificates and the free medical alert device. It sounds like the scammer is varying the calls with the food savings certificates to draw in more people.
Another suspicious item I received, this time in the mail, was a postcard with "important information" from a company requesting that I call to make sure my information is correct for a college directory, which is in the final stages of publishing: One small problem, I never went to the college named.
The card had the printed name and initials of the director of development and alumni relations for that college. In investigating, I found that the director's name was accurate for that school.
I also found that there is no charge by this company to the school for the directory. What the company is apparently looking for to sell high priced directories to alumni. There are warnings on the Internet that the company is phishing for your personal data and that you should not respond to them.
The Federal Trade Commission's Web page on robocalls states that these calls are increasing because companies are using autodialers that can send out thousands of phone calls every minute at a very low cost.
If you receive what you believe is an illegal robocall targeting you as a senior, go to https://econsumer.ftccomplaintassistant.gov to file a complaint. Give as much detail as you can. You might also want to call your phone provider to find out if they can block the number; they may charge for this service.
Please don't fall for these scammers who are only out to mislead and defraud you, so they can get your address, credit or debit card number, or and bank information.
Don't let these "impostors" win. Fight back by never providing any personal information to an unknown caller.
Never respond to a robocall from an unknown company; don't press a number to talk to a human; don't press another number to get your number off the list. Just hang up.