Attorney General Bondi and the Federal Trade Commission filed a joint complaint against a New York-based operation, known as Lifewatch, alleging that the company used blatantly illegal and deceptive telemarketing robocalls to trick older consumers throughout the United States and Canada into signing up for medical alert systems with monthly monitoring fees ranging from $29.95 to $39.95. Many of the victims are on fixed or limited incomes or rely on family members or health professionals to make financial decisions on their behalf. “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.
The complaint alleges that Lifewatch hired telemarketers to sell these systems on its behalf, that it has known of the use of both false claims and robocalls by its agents, and that it has continued to use these tactics even after one of its largest agents was shut down by Attorney General Bondi’s Office and the FTC more than a year ago. “Some scammers won’t take a hint,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “When we sued Lifewatch’s telemarketers for making deceptive robocalls, they just continued the same illegal practices with new telemarketers. The FTC and the Florida Attorney General won’t be deterred and will continue to work together to stop illegal robocalls.” According to the complaint, Lifewatch bombards primarily elderly consumers with unsolicited robocalls, often to numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, and typically using fake caller ID information. The calls 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 that they would receive it “at no cost to you whatsoever.” Consumers who press a number to speak with a live operator are told that even though the system cost more than $400, they would receive it for free.
However, the telemarketers refuse to answer questions about who bought the systems for the consumers, and tell consumers the offer is only good for one day. The operation has even used the well-known phrase “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” or told consumers they may have seen the product on television, to add an air of legitimacy to the sales pitch. Eventually, consumers are held responsible for a monthly monitoring fee. Consumers are also told that they will not be billed until they receive and activate the system, when they are actually charged almost immediately. Those who later realize they have been tricked discover that it is difficult to cancel, and have to pay to return the system or pay a $400 penalty. Attorney General Bondi’s Office and the FTC are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the defendants’ use of illegal robocalls and deceptive telemarketing claims and to freeze assets so that funds will remain available for eventual restitution to victims.