Scammers prey on older victims

MIDDLEBURY — The endless, unwanted phone calls began for Betty around six weeks ago. The elderly Addison County resident picks up her phone, and the caller — sometimes with an Indian accent — promises her a great deal on emergency response or computer services, all the while trying to mine her for personal information.
“It’s irritating,” said Betty, an octogenarian and already a Lifeline customer through Porter Medical Center who asked that her real name not be used.
“I think I have done everything I can think of (to make the calls stop).”
Unfortunately, Betty is not alone. Dozens of Addison County residents — many of them trusting seniors — are increasingly being called by what are believed to be fictitious or disreputable companies with callers sometimes trying to bully people into receiving personal emergency response services.
Not even Monica Sanchez, Porter’s Lifeline program coordinator, has been immune.
“I started getting the calls a few months ago,” Sanchez said, noting the irony. “And I found out others were getting them, too.”
Some of them have been robo-calls; others have featured real callers delivering a high-pressure sales pitch using the names of reputable companies. Officials theorize the offenders might be getting names from voter checklists.
Sanchez said the scammers are giving a bad name to the medical alert industry. She has heard from around a dozen clients who’ve been targeted by hucksters. Fortunately, none (yet) have fallen for the phony sales pitches, according to Sanchez.
“Be careful,” she advised prospective victims. “Don’t agree to a contract and don’t give out any personal information. If you’re not sure (the caller is legit), hang up and call back.”
Porter currently coordinates almost 500 Lifeline subscribers through the Philips Lifeline service. It’s a service through which a subscriber, when experiencing a medical crisis, can push a button to summon help.
Philips Lifeline officials are acknowledging the scam and have sent out a warning to Porter and its other Lifeline partners.
“We have received many calls from subscribers and Lifeline programs that a telemarketing center working on behalf of an unidentified company has been making large volumes of outbound telemarketing calls promoting a personal emergency response service,” the warning states. “The company may either be claiming they are Lifeline, or are being mistaken by the general public for Lifeline.”
The imposter usually claims to be offering free monitoring as part of a government program. They reportedly use high-pressure sales and won’t mail out information and transfer calls once callers ask questions about the service. When pressed further, they often hang up altogether.
Calls are being placed from different numbers — and many of these numbers have complaints launched against them, according to Philips officials. These numbers do not pick up if called back, likely due to the fact that the calls are routed from other locations to block their true origin.
Philips is encouraging its partners to remind their subscribers to never give out private information, especially credit card numbers or bank account numbers, to persons who call them.
Sanchez said Middlebury police are aware of the situation and have been speaking with people who have received scam calls. Betty has been among those who have called police, as well as her phone company, FairPoint. Still, the phone calls persist. She’s received 14 thus far; her last one was less than a week ago.
“They haven’t given up,” she said, ruefully.
Anyone with questions about Lifeline can call Sanchez at 388-8817.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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