|Walking Away with Mom’s Money|
We just went through a bit of an ordeal with my mom and her hearing aids. By sharing our experience I hope I can prevent this from happening to you. If anyone in your family is elderly you need to know this.
Mom needed new hearing aids. There was no doubt about that. She could hardly hear anything with her old ones anymore. Being the independent person she is, she just went to the hearing aid place that she’d always gone to before. Since she has access to a senior citizens van, she arranged for them to take her there & bring her home again. Only after ordering the new hearing aids did she mention it to her children.
I took her to the hearing aid store (I refuse to call it a doctor’s office, since no one there has their M.D.) to get the new ones fitted. She said she’d told them she wanted to pay the remainder of the bill via their no-interest payment plan. My brother who pays all her bills said he’d rather pay it off all at once since she had enough money in her checking account for that.
I went into the store with her and the hearing aid “specialist” fitted the new aids to her ears, tested them, and adjusted the volume. They worked great. Mom was so happy. They he asked her to sign the “contract” she’d agreed to before. She did before it registered in my mind what was going on. (My fault!) I was feeling a little uncomfortable. I told the specialist (who was seeming more and more oily) that Mom now wanted to pay the balance in full rather than on a payment plan. Mr. Oily began shifting in his chair.
He said that they couldn’t really do that because all the paperwork had been sent to the finance company and it was out of his hands. He said that when the first payment notice arrives to just pay it in full and “probably” she wouldn’t have to pay any interest. I mentioned that Mom had thought the payment plan had no interest. He said, the 12 month plan had no interest, but the 36 month plan she had agreed to included interest. When I objected he reassured me with more oiliness that it should be no problem as long as she paid it in full with the first payment.
Mom was so happy with her new hearing ability that we decided to go home. The hearing aid store said the paperwork they were sending home with her had the phone number of the finance company. It was not. So from home I called the hearing aid store and got the name of the finance company, two phone numbers, and her account number at the finance company. I phoned the finance company to let them know what was going to happen. After entering her very long account number, her account balance came up correct. It asked if I wanted to make a payment and thought I might as well pay it all now. It would only take a check from a bank account already on file with them, which hers was not. The messages said I could talk to a service representative (Yes!) for a fee of $15 (Nooooo!!!!!!). Sigh. There is another message that you can also make payments online. Ok. I go to their site and am in the process of setting up a user account for her. Who should I make the contact person on the account? My bother pays her bills, but he’s leaving on vacation in two days. I decide to talk to him about it.
I’m getting pretty frustrated by now. I look at the “contract” more carefully. The interest rate is 14.9% APR. This is making me angry. I call the hearing aid store again. Did they know she thought she’d signed up for the no-interest payment plan? No, they say, she signed up for the 36-month plan with interest. I spoke very slowly and deliberately, not losing my temper: “Do you realize she is hard of hearing?” There was silence as an answer. Finally the receptionist said that she couldn’t help it because everything was at the finance company.
Later that day I told my brother about it all. He said, “Let me call them.” He got on the phone with the hearing aid store. He told them that we were not going to deal with the finance company and that we were going to pay the bill in full and not wait for a bill. All of a sudden they were able to do that. They took Mom’s credit card number over the phone and my brother asked for and got the credit card transaction number for reference. (The transaction number is a new idea to me.) Problem solved!!!
I wondered if it took a male voice to get results. My brother says he thinks I softened them up with my pointed question about Mom not hearing them well when they explained it to her. My sister says it’s the fact that more than one family member was involved. My brother says that he’s had to deal with difficult situations like this before and there is one thing that works best: threatening to call the local tv reporter who specializes in local swindles and unfair practices. That works like a charm, even better than threatening to call the state attorney general’s office or threatening with a lawsuit. (My brother has a good friend who is a lawyer.)
Later Mom told me that Mr. Oily had told her during her previous visit that it was a good idea to buy the hearing aids on the payment plan because if she would die during the first month before the first payment came due, she wouldn’t have to pay for the hearing aids at all. Now that’s some sales pitch!
I’m not saying that every hearing aid center is set up to fleece senior citizens or that every one is in cahoots with a finance company. I’m just saying to be careful about any dealings with a hearing aid center. And if at all possible go with your loved one to such places, and talk to them ahead of time about not going alone. Elderly people are more trusting and can be swindled even if they are ordinarily intelligent people. Add in a little dementia and you are asking for trouble if you don’t accompany them to these kinds of places.
So there you have it. Mom’s hearing aids still work great. She’s happy and we’re happy. But it was a frustrating situation for a while. Have you had any dealings with unscrupulous people? What worked for you? I’m keeping the ploy of calling the local tv consumer reporter in my back pocket in case I ever need it!