Medical alert scam in Montgomery County reported -- Gazette.Net


Montgomery County residents have been targeted by a slick robocalling scam, the county’s Office of Consumer Protection warned Friday.

In the scam, a prerecorded voice tells the person answering the phone that someone they know has purchased a “Medical Alert” device for them and the company is trying to schedule a delivery, according to Eric Friedman, director of Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection.

But the calls are a scam operation to try to get personal identity information or credit card information from residents, Friedman said.

People getting ripped off by the scam receive monthly charges of $35 and up, said John D. Breyault, a vice president at the National Consumers League. The scam is similar to one that was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission in March, he said.

The call alone is illegal, he said.

“If you’ve not given permission for a company to contact you, they cannot use an auto dialer,” he said, explaining that it was a violation of consumer protection law.

In that case, a Brooklyn-based company would contact seniors with a similar pitch about a free medical alert service, then bill them between $817 and $1,602 with bogus invoices, he said. If the person receiving the bogus bill refused to pay, the company often threatened them, he said.

“The FTC put a halt to that scam, but there are copycats out there,” he said.

As for who’s behind it?

“Really, it could be practically anyone. If you have access to right technology, it’s a fairly simple scam to run,” he said. Many originate outside of the U.S., he said.

The calls come from a local number, but could actually be coming from anywhere in the country using a process called “spoofing,” Friedman said.

Keith Watkins, an investigator with Montgomery County’s Office of Cable and Broadband Services, said that he received one of the calls last week.

“It did not sound like a predictive dialer,” he said. “This fella just started talking. I truly thought it was a live caller,” said Watkins, 56, of Silver Spring.

Then, on the recording, the caller asked to schedule a delivery by pressing “1,” or to decline a delivery by pressing “5.”

“I’m aware of scams like this, but this sounded so lifelike that I thought I was talking to a real person,” Watkins said.

Once he realized it was a robocall, he listened to the rest of the recording, then hung up, he said.

Friedman advised Montgomery County residents to limit the amount of time on the phone, not to talk to a live operator, and not to give any personal information to operators.