Dealing with Robocalls and the “Free” Medical Alert System

Over the past several years, seniors across the country have been targeted with phone calls claiming they have a chance to receive a “free” medical alert system. The scammers will convince vulnerable seniors to give up their private information to commit identity theft or bank fraud.

How does the scam work?

Although there are many different versions of this scam, they all seem to follow a similar approach. The caller will often claim they are with Medicare or a well-known organization (American Heart Association, National Institute on Aging, American Diabetes Association, American Red Cross, etc.) and tell you that you can claim your “free” medical alert system by pressing “1.” This, however, will only cause you to receive more unwanted phone calls, only they won’t be automated robocalls next time. Instead, they will be from telemarketers trying to get you to share your personal information. They might also insist that a family member or friend has already paid for the medical alert system equipment and all you need to provide is information for delivery and setup, or a credit card or bank account number to pay for the monthly service fee. For those elderly that do fall for this scam, their personal information is often used by the scammers to steal their money or even drain their bank account entirely.

What can you do to protect yourself?

While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has done much in preventing these types of phone calls, there will always be new scams popping up to take the place of the old ones. AARP recommends some of the following tips to keep you and your loved ones safe:

  • Just hang up. Do not press any key on your phone, even if they give you a number that will put you on the “do not call” list. Pressing a key will indicate to the system that they have reached a live number and will continue to call you, even if you request not to be.
  • When in doubt, don’t give it out. If you are doubting the person calling you is someone that is reputable, do not give out your personal information. No legitimate organization will ever call you to ask for your banking information or social security number. Write down the phone number that called and report them to the FCC.
  • Is it really “free”? As the tale always goes, if the offer sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Even if the caller only asks for a name or email address, do not provide any information.
  • Do not rely on Caller ID. Many experienced scammers have a way of manipulating their phone number to have an area code that is familiar to you or from your area. Just because the number looks local, does not mean it is.
  • Always report suspicious activity. Even if you are unsure if the call was truly a scam, report what you experience to the Attorney General’s Office.

FCC on how to eliminate annoying robocalls

The FCC has noted that advances in technology have made it easy and cheap for scammers to send out thousands of pre-recorded phone calls using auto-dialers and fake caller IDs , which makes tracking them even more difficult. While you can list your phone number on the Do Not Call Registry (which will help to eliminate the amount of calls you get from legitimate telemarketers) scammers that use robocalls tend to not care about filtering out over 220 million phone numbers on that list. Since 2009, it has been illegal to make telemarketing calls to those phone numbers that are on the Do Not Call Registry, but stricter rules require that organizations using robocalls obtain written or verbal consent from a phone number’s owner before they call or text you. Of course, being scam artists, the majority of robocallers do not follow this either.

The FCC suggests a few tips:

  • You have the ability to limit at least majority of unwanted calls by adding your phone number to the Do Not Call Registry. This can be done by going to https://www.donotcall.gov/ or by calling 888-382-1222.
  • If your phone has caller ID, report the number the FTC via the Do Not Call Registry. This information will go into a database that helps regulators identify the sources of these illegal robocalls.