Minnesota Attorney General's Office
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
M - F 8 am - 5 pm
May 11, 2010
ATTORNEY GENERAL SWANSON SUES TWO COMPANIES THAT MADE DECEPTIVE SALES TO SENIOR CITIZENS FOR HOME AND MEDICAL SAFETY PRODUCTS
Warns Senior Citizens About Deceptive Sales Pitches That Exploit Fears About Personal and Medical Safety
Warning that aggressive door-to-door salespeople and telemarketers often target senior citizens with the sale of costly and deceptively-marketed products by exploiting their fears about their personal or medical safety, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson today filed two lawsuits against separate Utah and Arizona companies that deceptively sold home security alarm and medical safety products to senior citizens in Minnesota.
“Senior citizens often fear for their personal safety at home or their medical safety in an emergency. Some companies exploit these safety concerns by using high-pressure sales tactics to deceptively peddle costly products over the phone or at people’s doorsteps,” said Attorney General Swanson. “It is not rude or impolite to close the door or hang up the phone on these high-pressure sales pitches,” she added.
The first lawsuit—filed against AMP Alarm, LLC of Utah—alleges that the company deceptively sold home security alarms and related long-term alarm monitoring agreements to Minnesota residents that cost up to $2,300. AMP makes unsolicited door-to-door “cold calls” on Minnesota homeowners, many of them elderly and on fixed incomes, in an attempt to sell security alarms and long-term agreements that cost up to $48 per month and last up to five years.
The lawsuit alleges that AMP salespeople often talk their way into peoples’ homes after failing to provide the disclosures required under the Minnesota Personal Solicitation of Sales Act or after using “bait and switch” tactics. The Act requires sales agents who make unsolicited “cold calls” at peoples’ homes to provide their name, business represented, product being sold, the fact they are trying to sell a product, and written identification before starting a sales pitch, so as to put the homeowner on guard against letting unwanted salespeople in their home. In some cases, AMP falsely told consumers it was affiliated with their current alarm company or that its alarm systems were “free,” without disclosing that, in order to get the alarm hardware, people must sign long-term monitoring contracts. It also used high-pressure sales tactics with some citizens, including showing up at their homes late at night, walking into homes without an invitation, refusing to leave until the homeowner signed a contract, and intimidating them by calling installers before the consumer had agreed to anything. The company often failed to orally inform customers that, if they did not cancel within three days, they were locking themselves into contracts of up to five years under which they must pay a penalty equal 80 percent of all future monthly payments (often $2,000 or more) should they wish to cancel. (Some of AMP’s customers are in their 80’s and are not sure they will be alive or living in their homes in five years).
There have been consumer warnings around the country about alarm companies that use traveling salespeople to make unsolicited door-to-door sales calls that deceptively lock people into long-term contracts.
The second lawsuit—filed against EMT Medical, Inc. of Arizona—alleges that the company deceptively sold what it pitched as an emergency medical safety product for $398 through which citizens’ medical information could purportedly be immediately accessed by first responders in an emergency. In fact, EMT’s product is merely an online medical storage product. Many of EMT’s customers are senior citizens who do not use computers or the Internet, and over 85 percent never inputted their medical information into EMT’s online database after signing up. Among other things, the company uses frightening statistics about medical errors to pitch its products, such as “98,000 Americans die each year because of medical mistakes,” “1.5 million drug mishaps happen each year,” and “medical mistakes kill more people each year than breast cancer or motor vehicle accidents.”
EMT pushes people to buy its product on the spot over the phone and will not send written materials for people to look over in advance of a purchase. EMT has misled some senior citizens into believing that it is affiliated with or connected to hospitals, paramedics, and emergency responders. In fact, it has made no contact with Minnesota hospitals, paramedics or emergency responders to encourage use of its products and was unable to describe to the State any instance in which emergency personnel accessed its database to assist in the treatment of a Minnesota patient. EMT has falsely told other Minnesota senior citizens that a new federal law was passed that requires purchase of its product; that purchase of its product was required by Medicare; that purchase of the product was required because the person was over age 65; and that paramedics would not come to a person’s home if they did not buy the product.
Both lawsuits were filed in Hennepin County District Court and seek injunctive relief, restitution, and civil penalties. Both lawsuits allege that the companies violated Minnesota laws against deceptive trade practices and consumer fraud. The lawsuit against AMP also alleges that it violated Minnesota’s Personal Solicitation of Sales Act.
A Warning To Senior Citizens
The Attorney General’s Office issued two consumer warnings, one entitled “Beware of Door-To-Door Sales and Telemarketers that Target Seniors” and one entitled “Beware of Door-to-Door Security Alarm Sales.” Among other things, the Attorney General gives senior citizens this advice when it comes to unsolicited door-to-door callers and telemarketers:
- Don’t be swayed by unknown callers that try to scare you. For example, a company may try to sell you an alarm by talking about a rash of burglaries in your city or may try to sell you a medical safety product by talking about medical errors in hospitals or what would happen if you fell and couldn’t get up. While many people have legitimate medical and personal safety concerns as they age, the best way to deal with these concerns is to seek out reputable companies that offer meaningful products at a fair price.
- Just hang up or shut the door. Many people want to be “Minnesota Nice” and not hang up or shut the door on unknown callers. Pushy salespeople try to use your good manners against you in order to talk their way into your home or get you to give out your banking information on the phone. It is not rude or impolite to firmly tell salespeople you are not interested and then hang up the phone or shut the door.
- Don’t let strangers in your home. Door-to-door salespeople may try to talk their way inside your home by misrepresenting their identity or the nature of their business. It is never a good idea to let strangers in your home. Some aggressive salespeople may simply refuse to leave your home until you buy their product. It is much easier--and safer--to say “no” on the doorstep, rather than try to get the salesperson to leave your home once inside.
- Know your rights. Under Minnesota’s Personal Solicitation of Sales Act, salespeople who make “cold calls” at the doorsteps of Minnesota residents must clearly and expressly disclose: (1) their name, (2) the name of the business they represent, (3) the goods or services they wish to sell, (4) that they wish to sell those goods, and (5) they must show you identification with the sales agent’s name and the name of the business represented--before asking you any questions or making any other statements. In addition, under Minnesota’s Right to Cancel law, you only have three days to cancel most telephone and door-to-door sales involving personal goods or services. If you bought something from a door-to-door salesperson or telemarketer and have second thoughts, act immediately to cancel the contract. If you don’t cancel within three days, you may be locked into a costly and unwanted purchase.
- Read the fine print. Never sign anything unless you have read it, and never give out your banking information to strangers. If anyone asks you to sign a contract, don’t do so unless you have read it over. If you need more time, ask them to leave the contract behind, and consider reviewing it with a trusted family member, friend, or neighbor. If the seller won’t give you time to review the purchase with a trusted advisor, consider that to be a big red flag. Don’t sign any contract if the oral promises made by the salesperson are not backed up in writing.
Individuals who wish to file a consumer complaint may contact the Minnesota Attorney General's Office by calling 1-800-657-3787 or 651-296-3353. Consumers may also download a Complaint Form from by clicking here and mail the completed form to the Attorney General's Office at: 1400 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2131.