My elderly uncle in Iowa seems to be getting scammed by his audiologist

I talked to my uncle this evening and am very upset on his behalf. Sorry if I don’t have all of the precise details, but here’s the gist:

Two years ago, he paid $6000 (full price, he was told) for a pair of hearing aids with molds. When my uncle got the hearing aids, they said, “demo” on them, but he didn’t know what that meant.

Something was up with the mold, so he went somewhere local since the original dealer had moved to another town. This person said, “hey, these say demo” and let my uncle know that he shouldn’t have been sold that pair of hearing aids and that he couldn’t fix them (or something to that effect).

My uncle went to the original person who sold them and this guy basically said, “it’s okay that I did that.” My uncle said, “No, it’s not. Either repair this or give me a brand new pair.” That was 4 months ago, apparently, and he hasn’t gotten them back.

I’m not sure how often he’s called, if at all, because he has some health issues, but he did call last week and hasn’t heard back.

I am about to give this jerk a call, but first, I want to know what may be going on on his end (i.e., what kind of scam is he trying to pull?!) so that I know what to say.

No one messes with my uncle! :grinning:

THANK YOU!

Perturbed Niece.

I’ll give it a shot … and yes something is definitely off; being knowledgable and firm/assertive might be needed as you advocate for your uncle.

  1. I have a friend (in another state from me)who is audiologist who several years ago gifted me Phonak hearing aids and the outside of the shell/case it is marked as demo. Subsequent audiologists have rarely commented and have no problem/issue with adjusting them with the standard software.
  2. Almost always the purchase of hearing aids involves a written contract and will prevail regardless of anything said verbally. Get a copy of what your uncle signed as that primarily is your legal basis for taking action.
  3. A demo hearing aid had been loaned out to most likely numerous other potential clients, typically for 30 to 45 days at a time. Perhaps at the time that your uncle paid $6k the hearing aids had a year of use; wear and tear on them. My own guess is (and from your OP stating he had paid full price) as follows:
    $6,500 new price for 2 hearing aids; depends on Mfg and the level of technology; the $6.5K price is for pretty much top of the line for any mfg.
    $125-150 cost of ear molds

So new fair price might have been around $6,650; paying $6k is likely too much $; a used pair (my wild guess) should be sold for perhaps 20 - 25% off so $1,300 - $1,625 so perhaps he should have paid a grand total of $5,300 + $125-$150; or $4,875 + $125-!50. So perhaps was over charged quite a bit of money.

In addition, hearing aid purchase often includes a certain amount of insurance (for loss, damage, repair); and sometimes a certain amount of follow up visits.

You need to know the following in order to get a sense of what a “fair” price would have been:
make and model of what was bought
What after purchase service (and warranty was provided by vendor -not Mfg)
All of this should be in contract.
4. What you might do …
+You don;t need to know that much about hearing aids; think of it as being similar to buying a used car from a car dealer.

  • As I said, legally things are governed by the Contract; and that might not provide much protection if your uncle agreed to/signed something and paid more money than what is fair market (of course I am assuming that it is OK to sell a demo model, and on that point someone else here might know for sure, but I would call the Mfg and find out their policy on that).
  • Since the vendor has been unresponsive they are clearly not acting professionally. They might not care much about their reputation, or perhaps would care a lot. Check with BBB to see if there are complaints. I’d figure out at least somethings about vendor before making first contact so you are not snowed by what they might say.
  • Unlikely that there is enough money involved that you want to actually take any legal action, so approach things as a negotiation. What things do you want to achieve? What leverage do you have?

Situation at this point is poor from your uncle’s point of view:
Paid $6k and might have over paid by at least $1k.
Has surrendered hearing aids and does not have use of any for 4 months (at the very least this is “robbery”); possible I guess that those older HAs have been sold again to someone else in which case you are in a different ball game and have very strong basis for legal action. The Contract sould list the serial numbers of what your uncle had purchased; I believe the Mfg. would have knowledge of who the HAs are registered to, and if it is someone other than your uncle that’d be important info to know (again not that different than the used car analogy).

  • Depending on what your preliminary research/info gathering shows would (for me) determine what the next steps would be and what you might pursue in a first phone call.

I am not a lawyer and am not offering legal advice. Hopefully one of your top priority goals is getting hearing aids that work back to your uncle asap. Good luck …

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Give the manufacturer a call.
Tell them what you told us.
Good luck.

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I’d be contacting the manufacturer, as Raudrive has suggested, and also the governing body for audiologists and hearing aid practitioners in your uncle’s state.

I’d be showing up at the audi’s place of business and demanding the return of his HAs. If they’re unavailable, next call is to your uncle’s lawyer.

Have copies of all documentation and pictures of the devices ready to roll.

Thank you! I live out of state, so I hope that he still has the documentation.

Is it true that the manufacturer “owns” these? I think that I read that somewhere.

My uncle lives in low-income housing, so I also wonder if he could have gotten these for a lot less through Medicare or if the audiologist ran come kind of scam that way.

Do you think he could have billed Medicare or told Medicare he charged a small amount of money yet he charged my uncle full price? How could I find out?

thanks!

I’d call Medicare’s fraud office only once you have sufficient evidence to warrant making this serious accusation.

Edward is correct in saying that Job#1 is to regain physical possession of your uncle’s property.

This will be dicey to do by phone if, in fact, a crime is being perpetrated against your uncle. You need boots on the ground where he lives who can go to the place of business, in order to restore the goods to your uncle

Whatever you do, document and record everything you can. (Times, phone numbers, contact information, and if you’re not sure how to help, contact your local BBB and the state chapter of whatever the audiologists’ association is.)

Whatever you do, don’t damage your own credibility by going into this “half-cocked”.

Thank you for such detailed advice! Wow.

Luckily, I have another uncle out there who helps this uncle with his day to day life and finances. I will find out what I can from the manufacturer and/or the audiologist and go from there.

I really appreciate your help!

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Very good advice! I will get the hearing aid (just one–my uncle has the other one) first before anything else.

Thank you so much! I’ll let you know.

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Fairly sure that Medicare would not cover hearing aids.

  1. The mrg does not own the hearing aids. Extremely likely that your uncle owns the hearing aids, but if there is a Contract (of sale) that is what would govern the transaction; extremely unlikely that the Contract was for leading he HAs.
  2. Since I assume that your uncle owns the hearing aids if 1 or both were delivered to the seller for repair, and it has been 4 months without them being returned then that is a fairly clear violation of your uncle’s property rights of ownership.
  3. Depending on what you find out, during the first interaction of your other uncle or yourself, you might choose not to lead off with the heavy guns other than perhaps to imply that they are there. Perhaps give the seller a chance to save face and at least return the hearing aid(s) for starters and once that is accomplished see about your additional steps.
  4. Don’t have enough information and it is easy for me to jump to conclusions about the seller which might or might not be warranted. As @SpudGunner wrote: don’t go off half cocked (even though you are suspicious that your uncle has been/ is being scammed.

Thanks! I started with an email and said what my uncle told me in as non-accusatory way as possible. Then I asked if the hearing aids were ready and repaired. I wasn’t sure if HIPPA laws would be in place, so I said, “If you can’t talk to me, please call my uncle below (or his brother).” Hopefully we can take it from there.

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Interested to hear what happens. Sometimes providers get Demo aids at a cheaper price than they would have gotten for a set they ordered specifically for a patient. That would be unethical for them to sell demo aids like that. Definitely worth getting the serial numbers and contacting the manufacturer. They likely wouldn’t be too happy if their customers are ripping them off.

But there could be something else going on.

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Traditional Medicare does not cover hearing aids. Some Medicare Advantage programs provide some coverage. Just FYI.

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UPDATE:SUCCESS!

I sent a polite but detailed email last night and received an email back AT 7:23 AM saying, "I just received it Friday and will be bringing it down there this week. Everything has been delayed. It has been impossible to get things. He will have it in the next day or two."

I found out later that by 10:30 am, my Uncle Jim had a knock at his door ! He was presented with a different hearing aid–not a “demo” and it appeared to be new, but we don’t know for sure. it seems that he read my email (6:23 am his time) and within FOUR hours, he was at my uncle’s door-after a 1:15 minute drive, too! So, this seems to have been his first priority. I wish I could say that all of my troubles are so easily dealt with. I wonder if the guy realized that I was just a few keyboard taps away from higher authorities and he wanted to nip that in the bud asap? I think that he was stunned to find that Uncle Jim, living in lower-income housing, with his special needs trust, has ACTUAL PEOPLE who love him and will advocate for him. The brother who does isn’t hooked up to the internet, though, nor does he have a smart phone, so he’s not able to do research, etc. In short, I think this guy thought Uncle Jim was forgettable. and, no, he is NOT! I’ll be checking in once a week.

ANYWAY, thanks so much for your help, everyone, especially Edma who wrote such a detailed response. It’s such an act of kindness to me and to my uncle! You made Jim’s day, my day, my aunt’s day, and Ben’s day so much better when you gave me the confidence to write an email that “worked.”

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Sadly, many of the hearing aid providers and audiologists have taken on the full range of deceptive practices, pricing policies and moral attitudes for which car dealers have practiced for years (and still do). I have Resound aids which have given good service while being “serviced” by an argumentative and nefarious, audiologist with a totally foul attitude.

My guess is you’re exactly right, and that’s what provoked the quick action.

I just read through this. So glad for your uncle that this worked out!

I was going to suggest contacting the Iowa AG, for elder abuse. Elder abuse does not need to be physical; financial scams are also covered.

Going forward, I do hope you can convince your uncle to go ANYWHERE else for service of his HAs.

Oh, wow! My son just got some resound last week. I do love our audiologist. Sorry yours is so awful!

Yes, I don’t think this should be the end of it because, after all, he still has one “demo” hearing aid and I have no idea if there’s the proper paperwork to go with that, etc. I’ll continue to look into it.

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Ugh, I missed that. Yes, hope he can find his paperwork.