Feds: Lifewatch Is Behind Medical Alert Scam Targeting the Elderly

Authorities allege in court papers Lifewatch is responsible for hundreds of millions of robocalls and that its campaigns are illegal.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Federal authorities say Lifewatch, a New York company that sells medical alert systems, orchestrated an illegal telemarketing campaign that targeted senior citizens with bogus claims of providing free systems.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Florida attorney general’s office have sued Lifewatch, its president and related businesses and are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the robocalls, The Morning Call reports.

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Officials initially had identified a telemarketing operation they said made the calls on behalf of Lifewatch. Last fall, without admitting wrongdoing, those companies settled the cases filed against them by agreeing to exit the telemarketing business, according to the newspaper.

Officials say when the calls continued after those telemarketers were shut down, the trail led them to Lifewatch. The callers preyed on seniors by using fears of being alone and not being able to get help in an emergency.

“Some scammers won’t take a hint,” Jessica Rich, the FTC’s consumer protection director, said in a statement. “When we sued Lifewatch’s telemarketers for making deceptive robocalls, they just continued the same illegal practices with new telemarketers.”

David Goodman, an attorney for Lifewatch, told The Morning Call the company is contesting the allegations “and is confident as to the ultimate outcome.” He declined to comment further, saying the company would litigate the case in court, not in the press.

Authorities say the telemarketers are Lifewatch’s agents and Lifewatch is responsible “for their deceptive acts and practices.” Authorities allege in court papers that Lifewatch is responsible for hundreds of millions of robocalls, and “all aspects of Lifewatch’s campaigns are illegal.”

Several versions of the call hit the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. In the first wave in spring 2013, people were told they could receive an alarm at “no cost to you whatsoever” after someone recommended it for them or bought it for them, the newspaper reports. Later versions of the call offered free groceries in addition to free medical alarms.

The newspaper report includes this account of one of the robocalls: “Senior citizens, pay close attention to the following message. If you or a family member are 60 years old or older, you now qualify under the new National Senior Assistance Program to receive $3,000 in free grocery savings certificates. They can be used at over a hundred major grocery chains across the U.S.”

The recent lawsuit alleges the calls were made illegally to people on the Do Not Call registry, often using a gimmick known as “spoofing” to show a phony number on a recipient’s caller ID.

People who followed the prompts to speak with an operator were told the medical alert system was worth more than $400 but was free because it was recommended or purchased for them by a friend, family member or health care provider, the lawsuit alleges.

The telemarketers refused to divulge who recommended or paid for the system, the lawsuit says, and falsely said the system was recommended by organizations including the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, National Institute on Aging, AARP and American Red Cross.

Only at the end of the call did the telemarketers explain there is a monthly monitoring fee of $29.95 to $39.95. Some people later learned nobody they knew had referred them or paid for their system and they tried to cancel their accounts, the lawsuit says. But they had difficulty canceling because they couldn’t reach customer service representatives or the reps they reached claimed not to have the authority to cancel, the newspaper reports.

In court papers, the FTC and Florida attorney general’s office said Lifewatch “cannot escape responsibility for the abusive and deceptive practices of its telemarketers.”

They said Lifewatch provided scripts to its telemarketers and evidence shows the company not only is aware its telemarketers are making misrepresentations, but “condones and directs” those practices.

Lifewatch has until Aug. 3 to file court documents responding to the injunction request, according to The Morning Call.

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