Houston’s NewsRadio 740 AM turns to Watchdog Nation for advice

Houston’s NewsRadio 740 AM turns to Watchdog Nation for help dealing with fraudulent door-to-door salesmen. Here’s the report and also copied below:

Dave Lieber on the radio

The big federal push to cover the uninsured is still a couple years away, but con-artists are getting an early start.

By John Labus

April 9, 2010  — They’re preying on the uninformed, getting people to buy health insurance policies that don’t exist. “The days of the Fuller Brush man and the encyclopedia salesman, those are over.”

Consumer advocate Dave Lieber with WatchdogNation.com says even if you have coverage, they’ll try to sell a fake supplemental policy. “The elderly are the easiest; they love it when an older person comes to the door. But they’ll take a 30-year housewife and sell her Obama Care too.”

Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary of Aging Kathy Greenlee says federal authorities are taking special care to warn the elderly about this latest scheme.

“First of all, the federal government is not going door-to-door to sell insurance. There’s no part of health reform that includes door-to-door salesmen… Be very careful with (your) Medicare number, and don’t give it out to people that you don’t have a prior relationship with.”

But Lieber adds that it’s not just the elderly who can fall into this trap. “They’re targeting everybody. And the most well-informed person is still susceptible to the scam that comes to their front door, because the scammers know how to talk to people in a way that just makes you feel at ease.”

Both agree that if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.


Now that ace TV pitchman Billy Mays is gone, all eyes should turn to The SCOOTER Store guy

Now that TV huckster Billy Mays is gone, who can replace him as top pitchman on middle-of-the-night TV?

Watchdog Nation nominates Doug Harrison.

He’s the guy on The SCOOTER Store’s incessant TV commercials who makes that big promise about the free chair or scooter if you don’t qualify under Medicare.

Billy Mays

Billy Mays

Doug Harrison is founder and president of The SCOOTER Store and star of his own commercials. He promises that if you don’t  qualify for a scooter or power chair with government assistance – his exact words – “we’ll give you a new power scooter free.”

The SCOOTER Store’s marketing campaign is an example of advertising that takes you to the edge of the line but doesn’t cross over. Or does it?

Doug Harrison (Photo/thescooterstore.com)

Doug Harrison

That same Doug Harrison a couple of years ago agreed to make a $500,000 personal “contribution” to the federal government  to settle a huge civil lawsuit against The SCOOTER Store for violating the False Claims Act. The company paid another $4  million in fines and gave up Medicare claims worth about $13 million.

Harrison, the U.S. Justice Department stated in 2007, “also agreed to forego dividends from his shares in the company for the next year in exchange for a release of his personal liability.”

As a recent Watchdog column by Dave Lieber in the July 18, 2009 Fort Worth Star-Telegram reminded here, federal prosecutors accused The SCOOTER Store of engaging “in a multi-media advertising campaign to entice beneficiaries to obtain power scooters paid for by Medicare, Medicaid, and other insurers. Instead of the ‘zippy’ power scooters that were advertised, The SCOOTER Store sold the beneficiaries expensive power wheelchairs that they did not want, need and/or could not use.”

The government also accused The SCOOTER Store of selling used equipment as new and charging Medicare millions for unnecessary accessories.

As part of this, the company agreed to a 5-year corporate integrity program, monitored by the federal government.

When you examine the 2009 TV ad starring Harrison and the company’s latest marketing materials, the delicate use of  language stands out.

The promise of a free chair is still there, but it’s loaded with conditions:

“You may even get your power chair or scooter ABSOLUTELY FREE.”

“Your new power chair or scooter could cost you little to nothing.”

“If we pre-qualify you… we guarantee you will receive it FREE.”

And the ultimate qualifier: “This guarantee has some restrictions, is not available in all locations, and is subject to change.”

You may…

You could…


Notice how these words, added as qualifiers after the Justice Department’s action, are not capitalized.

What is capitalized?


Over the line?

Getting a refund: It’s not like the good old days

Today, we listen to Ruth Wingfield, a 98-year-old great-grandmother in Arlington, as she describes her bout with the Cigna Medicare Rx drug plan:


I’m really mad because they’ve got my money and won’t give it back. And I’m their customer.

This all started [in late February] because they suddenly started charging 40 cents a month, which I had to pay to them, not to the pharmacy here. Would you want to write a 40-cent check?

So I got a bill for three months for $1.20. I was trying to be nice. I was going to pay them for a year, $4.80.

I gathered up my three or four bills and wrote them out. They were all for around $100. When I got to this one, I was going to pay them for a year, $4.80; and so I wrote it for $480. I’m a crippled old woman. I was embarrassed to tell anybody. I pride myself on being careful, you know? My daughter could have made the same mistake.

I could have called the bank and stopped the check, but I thought they were honest. I called and got a supervisor, and he told me he would mail that check back. That was a month ago. I didn’t write his name down. Next time, I will.

This is what I got after that — a bill that shows I have a credit of $478. It says, “NO PREMIUM DUE! PLEASE DO NOT REMIT PAYMENT!”

I’m prepaid for a hundred years, and I may not live three days. Now does that make sense for your good customer?

See, they take advantage. They say, “That old woman is senile. She won’t remember.”

I called them two or three times, and they said, “It’s being processed.” But that’s my money, and I want it. Yeah, I got bills right here that I need to pay. My Social Security income is all the income I have. I’ve just got to be real careful. I’ve just got a limited amount that comes in. Wouldn’t you think a month would be long enough to process something?

I talked to my letter carrier and he told me that at the Star-Telegram, they got somebody down there that helps old ladies. Dogpatch or something. I found the directory and found the Star-Telegram number. I told the man on the phone that I want to talk to the people that help old ladies, the dogpatch guy.

Is that what you call our place?. Oh, Watchdog. See, you caught me in another mistake. Let me write that down. That wasn’t but too far off. This sure takes a knot out of my stomach.


Cigna response:

Now we hear from Lindsay Shearer of Cigna HealthCare:

The sum was wired to Mrs. Wingfield’s account. Everything has been resolved. Thank you for helping us get to her so we could take care of it quickly.

We will always look into a situation like this and remedy the process to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

As you know, we’re not able to speak about any individual’s specific situation because of both Cigna and federal privacy laws. What I can tell you is that refund requests are researched for verification and processed on a weekly basis. While we usually tell people they can expect a refund within 30 days, the refund checks typically arrive within 7-10 days. This is all within [federal] guidelines.

Member service representatives go through ongoing process and customer service training to understand the unique needs of seniors. While extremely rare, if the process breaks down for any reason, we take it very seriously and conduct a thorough review of the situation and then take the necessary steps, such as additional training, to make sure it does not happen again.


Not the way it used to be

Final words from Wingfield:


They just break my heart. It hurts to know the world has gone this way. And you know, I’m old-fashioned. I take it that everybody can be honest. But I guess it doesn’t work that way anymore.