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Lois Christen just wanted to get ready for her grandchild's graduation. But the home security salesman wouldn't leave. He promised her a free system in exchange for putting a sign up in her Faribault front lawn. He followed her inside and "just sat there -- talked about the color of the walls, and talked about anything he could think of to stay there," said Christen, 74 years old.
Frightened, she decided "the only way I was going to get him out of there was to take it." Turns out she's locked into a five-year contract she claims she wasn't told about for a security system she said she doesn't want. It costs the retiree close to $50 per month and comes with hefty cancellation fees.
Attorney General Lori Swanson announced Tuesday that her office is suing the security company, AMP Alarm of Utah, as well as online medical profile company EMT Medical Inc. of Arizona, for deceptive sales practices. Both suits have been filed in Hennepin County District Court. "The companies exploited people's fears about their personal and medical safety," Swanson said.
Swanson alleges these businesses targeted seniors because some have accumulated decades' worth of savings, live alone and fear for their safety, or have medical conditions such as dementia that make it easier for scammers to access their money. "All of these things add up to mean that seniors get more than their share of fraudulent marketing calls," she said.
In the AMP Alarm suit, Swanson alleges the company violated a state law that requires a salesperson to disclose his or her name, business and the fact that a product is being sold before launching into a sales pitch. The lawsuit also claims the company's salespeople use "bait and switch" tactics, promising free security systems that actually cost something.
An attorney for AMP said the company denies the allegations and will "vigorously" fight the suit. "Every customer understands" the agreement, said Hal Reiser. Reiser said AMP has about 4,500 customers in Minnesota, and he is aware of three complaints, suggesting its customers are satisfied. He added that the average age of AMP customers is 53 and "we don't target senior citizens."
The stories of five Minnesotans, all older than 65, are shared in the state's lawsuit.
Swanson also sued EMT Medical, a company that offers online storage of medical records. According to the case, the company aggressively sells a useless product costing nearly $400 that promises to help prevent emergency responders from making life-threatening medical mistakes. The state says that's a false claim. The company "was unable to tell the state of a single instance where emergency personnel actually went into the database to help a Minnesota patient," Swanson said. And because the customer is responsible for inputting the data, the "overwhelming majority" of accounts are empty or incomplete, the suit claims.
The suit also alleges the company used scary statistics about the number of Americans who die each year from medical errors to persuade them to buy. If that tactic fails, the salesperson tells the potential customer that a new federal law requires the purchase.
It all sounded fishy to Margaret Hughes, 75, a retired emergency room nurse from Columbus. After several conversations with salespeople, including one where the salesman asked for her bank account information despite her lack of interest, she went to authorities.
EMT officials did not return calls for comment.
Consumers interested in such services should check the Better Business Bureau before doing business with a company that shows up on their doorstep. EMT Medical gets a "D+" rating from the bureau; AMP Alarm has a "D" grade. Both have dozens of complaints registered at the site.