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Phone fraud the latest to hit peninsula
At first, Sequim resident Beth Pallai disregarded the phone message as just another solicitor.
But when her husband, John, got the same call in late June, she wondered if this was a legitimate business or a scam.
It didn’t take long for the Pallais to realize those calls were likely another in a string of phone frauds that have hit several areas across the country.
Today contributor Herb Weisbaum noted last week that, “A new barrage of annoying robocalls is targeting seniors across the country with the promise of a free medical alert system,” purporting to be from the Life Alert company. Yes, the same company that brought you, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” With an offer of a prepaid medical alert system, the scammers aim to sign people up for a monthly service.
Unfortunately, it’s not the same nationally known company. Jeannette Kopko, senior vice president of communications at the Better Business Bureau of Dallas, told Today these automated calls encourage people to talk with live salespersons, who try to get a credit or debit card number.
“This is just a way to sell you this service, a service that you may or may not want,” Kopko said.
The bureau representative said some people who go for the sales pitch receive a medical alert product, but not the Life Alert system, while others say they didn’t receive anything. But all who did fall for the scam did receive something similar — a monthly bill with a contract that’s not easy to get out of.
Fraud experts remind consumers never, ever to give out credit or debit card numbers or personal information over the phone, not to respond to robocalls (automated calls) from an unknown company and not to press a key to talk to a sales representative. Instead, simply hang up.
If you do fall for this or a similar scam, contact your bank or credit card company immediately and then check with the state consumer protection division. In Washington, find help through the attorney general’s office at www.atg.wa.gov.
From communities in Maine to Texas to Arizona and now in small-town Sequim, the faux Life Alert scammers have been busy.
“I wasn’t sure if it was automated or a real person,” Beth Pallai said. “The way they were verbalizing it (the sales pitch) wasn’t professional.”
The Pallais figured it may have been a scam after receiving another call days later.
The second call set off the proverbial red flags for Beth.
“I’m a nurse with Assured Hospice so I’m kind of extra sensitive to seniors in the community,” she said.
“Seniors should always be wary of anyone calling them to tell them that they are eligible for free products in exchange for their personal information,” Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills said.
The real Life Alert company has posted a fraud warning on its website (www.lifealert.com/fraudalert.aspx).
“Since everyone knows our company and our trademarked slogan, a lot of seniors fall for this scam,” Olga Vlasova, vice president of marketing at Life Alert Emergency Response, Inc., told Today.
Post-purchase computer scam
One Sequim resident, who asked to be unnamed for security reasons, said he experienced a scam over the phone after he bought a computer online.
The resident and his wife began receiving phone calls early in the morning — 4, 5 and 6 a.m. — from a person claiming to be a Microsoft Windows employee trying to help the customer keep his laptop from being hacked.
“He said my firewall was failing and actually showed me on my computer screen when (and) how many times these hackers attacked my computer and how weak my Windows firewall had become,” the Sequim resident said. “He labeled my problem as an infection rather than a virus.”
After consistent calls and persistent solicitation, the caller convinced the Sequim resident to give his debit card information for $199 worth of firewall software, giving the customer various confirmation and security codes that seemed authentic.
“I just had a feeling I shouldn’t have done this,” the Sequim resident recalled, so he checked his bank account and found two debits of $215 each. A local bank representative, he said, told him the scammers had tried to take another $600 after that.
“Thanks to my daily withdrawal limit on the card account, they were unable to do so,” the Sequim resident said. “He told a good story, was very convincing and sounded extremely trustworthy. Boy, was I mistaken.”
Tickets with a catch in mail offer
In June, Francey Jacobsen of Sequim received a postcard in the mail claiming that she had won two roundtrip tickets on one of several national airlines and that all she needed to do was call within 48 hours. The catch? She had to sit through a 90-minute presentation about a kind of time share offer.
She joined three other couples at a Sequim hotel, where for 90 minutes salespersons showed a video and offered packages that would save her and six members of her family thousands off travel rates for a flat fee that totaled about $6,000.
The deal, Jacobsen found later, had an additional $299 annual fee through another company.
On June 29, Jacobsen signed up, but soon changed her mind. The salesperson told her the deal was locked in after three days.
“That was never mentioned in the meeting,” Jacobsen said.
Soon Jacobsen had family members — her husband, an insurance fraud investigator, her son-in-law and her granddaughter, a lawyer in Las Vegas — trying to help her get her money back. Her advocates couldn’t find a reference to the company she signed a contract with (WTC America) and only found PO boxes, not addresses, for the salespersons.
Though she was able to recover the $299 annual fee, the $6,000 is gone, Jacobsen said. She said she never should have signed the contract, despite how good the deal sounded.
“It makes me feel like a stupid old lady,” she said.
She said she hopes that none of the three other Sequim couples at that sales presentation in June signed a similar contract.
Other scams on the market
Residents in Florida, California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Texas have filed several complaints to sites such as scambook.com about solicitors offering unnecessary “change of address” services. Third-party companies claiming to represent the United States Postal Service offer to help consumers register a new residential address, resulting in unexpected charges that average up to $24 per month.
Individuals receive an initial processing charge of $1 followed by unwarranted monthly charges for additional services they didn’t knowingly purchase. Others experienced difficulty contacting the sites’ customer service departments to cancel unwanted subscriptions.
The United States Postal Service has a change of address site at https://moversguide.usps.com.
Scambook representatives urge individuals to read all fine print before committing to any contract.
Keep yourself , loved ones safe
The Washington State Office of the Attorney General has multiple resources for consumers to protect themselves from scams online at atg.wa.gov.
The site’s “All Consuming” blog spots the newest scamming trends, topics and alerts emerging across the region.
The state Attorney General also has links to other consumer issues, antitrust/unfair trade practice information, Internet safety tips and more.
Those who feel they have been scammed or have disputes with businesses can find links to file a complaint with the office online, by mail or call with questions.