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Scammers exploit seniors’ interest in mHealth, home monitoring

By Jennifer Bresnick

mHealth is a rapidly growing field, filled with innovations that allow patients to manage chronic diseases, live longer, and stay more independent, innovations that will only grow more important as the baby boomer generation approaches retirement.  Seniors and their caregivers are increasingly using vital sign trackers, medication management reminders, and other devices to help keep them living at home in comfort and safety.  But it’s not just developers and physicians who are taking advantage of these electronic links with providers: scammers are starting to get in on the act, too.

Last week, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman released an advisory to senior citizens about robo-calls that purported to offer free home monitoring and medical alert equipment to the elderly in exchange for a $35 monthly subscription fee.  The message tries to scare seniors into taking advantage of the fake service by warning of “a significant rise in the number of senior citizens suffering death and serious life-threatening injuries from a delay in response times for medical emergencies, fires, burglaries or even a simple fall.”  Victims also report receiving additional calls that became more threatening and aggressive.

“Unfortunately, the elderly are disproportionately targeted by scam artists and are often the victims of fraud and abuse,” Schneiderman said. “To prevent senior citizens from becoming victimized, we must educate them and their loved ones with information they can use to protect themselves.”  That includes discussing any home monitoring activities with a physician, home health service, or healthcare coordinator.  Few legitimate mHealth programs are marketed directly to consumers, says Eric Wicklund on the mHIMSS blog, and are usually conducted through an insurance plan or healthcare provider.

Authorities traced the calls to the Utica or Syracuse area, with the scammers providing a fake Florida address to undercover agents.  The callers identified themselves as representatives of “Senior Medical Alert” or “Senior Medical Advisors”, and claimed to be affiliated with United Health.  The Attorney General urges the public never to give billing information over the phone, and to report any suspicious activity of this nature to their local consumer protection hotline.




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