HAMPTON - The company behind the curtain of robocalls targeting many senior citizens is revealed. It's New York-based Lifewatch USA.
When April Smith of Virginia Beach received a call, she immediately got suspicious. The caller pitched a medical alert response system that can connect a senior citizen to help during a home emergency.
Here's what the call said:
"For emergencies, fires, burglaries or even a simple fall. The American Heart Association and the American Diabetic Association are urging all senior citizens to get a personal, life-saving emergency medical alert system for their home. For the first time, the American Senior Benefits Program is providing senior citizens with this life-saving, emergency medical alert equipment at no charge to seniors. Press one now to find out how. Just one push of a button, you can have a live, certified emergency medical technician on the line to help you in just seconds. Again, press one now and you'll never have to feel helpless, worried or by yourself in an emergency situation. Press five now to be removed from our Senior Benefits calling list."
The organizations mentioned in the recording aren't happy about being used to sell a product they know nothing about.
A spokesperson with the American Heart Association says the AHA doesn't endorse medical alert products and the American Diabetic Association doesn't exist. The real group is the American Diabetes Association.
Medic Alert Vice President Jeff Cleary also doesn't want people to confuse the product with the Medic Alert non-profit foundation since the term "medical alert" is mentioned twice in the recording.
Meanwhile, American Senior Benefits is fielding calls from people angry over the robocalls. One woman has even threatened to sue. The Kansas-based organization's president, James Sweeney, says the group has reported the calls to Attorneys General in several states.
Lifewatch USA is standing by its product but not the marketer responsible for the calls. CEO Evan Sirlen says his company partners with numerous marketers to sell the emergency medical alert systems that, he says, has been a reliable product for 30 years. Sirlen says he doesn't always know how the marketers are pitching the product.
After being contacted by 13News, Sirlen was able to track down the marketers calling themselves "Senior Benefits." Because of the controversy, they are no longer making calls on his behalf and he's considering dropping their service.
Old Dominion University Associate Professor of Marketing Dr. Yuping Liu-Thompkins says many telemarketers try to hide where their calls are coming from.
"That’s the way a lot of advertising works -- is that by associating their product or brand name with a particular entity that is relatively well known, it helps the consumer to remember their product. And also, it adds credibility to the product, too, whether that’s really a true claim or not. The problem is that most of the time, consumers on an average day are exposed to a couple hundred advertising messages on a daily basis, not all of them we’re aware of, and who’s going to actually do a fact check with every claim we receive?" says Liu-Thompkins.
She states it's a company's responsibility to keep up with how their product is being sold or marketed.
Sally Jones of Hampton also got the call that shows up as Hampton number 757-251-9409 on the caller ID. The call came in a day after she had several recent falls.
"I fell eight times in the last three weeks," Jones says.
She followed the prompts and talked to a salesperson who said he was from Lifewatch. Until then, she thought the offer came from the American Senior Benefits Program. She signed up for the free equipment and the $29.95 monthly fee for the service. Days later, she changed her mind and canceled the charge through her credit card company.