A medical-alert system, offered by national chains and local operators, can provide peace of mind to the elderly and their loved ones. But that peace of mind comes only if you're sure the company is providing the service it says it is.

While the national chains draw their share of consumer complaints, so do the independents. In Maryland, Attorney General Douglas Gansler says his Consumer Protection Division has issued a Cease and Desist Order against Glenn Chumley and his business, Medical Alert Buyers Alliance Corp.

The state alleges that Chumley preyed on elderly consumers by selling them emergency alert devices and one-year service plans promising to connect them with an emergency alert center if they fell or had other medical emergencies, but then failed to respond when they needed help.

'Appalling act'

"Taking advantage of vulnerable Marylanders who depend on their medical alert devices is an appalling act that could lead to serious injury or even death and it must not be tolerated," said Attorney General Gansler. "Consumers rely on emergency alert providers for help when they need it most."

According to the charges, the company entered into contracts with more than 1,000 customers promising to help them, but after going more than $100,000 in debt with a vendor, it stopped providing the emergency alert services for which consumers had already paid. As a result, when consumers had emergencies and pressed the buttons on their emergency alert devices, nobody responded.

No one responded

In a petition that accompanied the charges, one consumer described his elderly mother pressing her emergency alert device when she fell and broke her shoulder, but nobody replied. Another consumer described waiting for hours to get help after she could not reach anyone using the emergency alert device purchased from Chumley's.

To make matters even worse, the state alleges that the company continued to bill consumers for emergency services it did not provide, made unauthorized charges on consumers' credit cards and failed to honor warranties and guaranties that it made to customers.

The order requires Medical Alert Buyers Alliance Corp. to stop selling medical-alert services unless it posts a $20,000 bond with the state.

The lesson in all of this, of course, is finding the right medical-alert/security firm takes some research. One question to ask is how secure is the security firm. Is it adequately funded to provide services in the future. Keep in mind most of these companies require of contract of year or more.

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