Beware of a price rip-off when you buy eyeglasses: Internet Scambusters #957
A quarter of us either wear eyeglasses or contact lenses or have other vision problems.
So, eyewear is big business, which means it's also an opportunity to trick buyers and wearers into paying more than they should or getting scammed in other ways.
But customers have important safeguards to protect them as well as the need to exercise caution when buying or testing online, as we explain in this week's issue.
Let's get started…
How Eyeglasses Rules Protect You From Prescription Scams
How is your vision -- clear enough to tell if you're being scammed when buying your eyeglasses?
Trouble is, there's quite a lot of profit to be made from eyeglass lenses and frames, especially those with a designer label attached.
And in the past, most of us kind of got used to buying our new eyeglasses at the same place we had our eyes examined. Plus, maybe we felt a little uncomfortable asking for a prescription that we could take elsewhere.
The result is that some prescribing eye doctors (ophthalmologists) haven't even been providing a prescription, leaving customers to feel like captives.
Meanwhile, the eyeglasses market has actually become extremely competitive because of the growth in online services, offering lenses and frames at a considerable discount.
Of course, there's an argument for saying that you need a personal service to ensure your glasses fit correctly, but that still leaves you with the option of visiting other eyewear providers to compare prices.
In fact, your eye care prescriber is legally required to give you a complete prescription, whether you ask for one or not. It's also illegal for a prescriber to stipulate that you must agree to buy your eyeglasses from them before they will conduct your examination.
"You can use your prescription to buy eyeglasses wherever they are sold -- from another prescriber, a store, or online," says the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
"Cost, quality, and supply can vary a lot from seller to seller, so it pays to shop around for the best deal."
Just recently, the FTC sent out warning letters to more than two dozen ophthalmic practitioners saying they may have broken the law -- the Ophthalmic Practice Rules, better known as the Eyeglass Rule. The latest version of the rule became effective last October.
In addition to stipulating that the doctor must give you a prescription, the rule says they also are not allowed to charge an additional fee for this, though they are permitted, under certain conditions, to ask for a payment for the actual exam before handing over the prescription.
They also cannot ask you to sign a liability waiver or release as a condition of handing over the prescription. And they must present you with your prescription after completion of the exam, not some time later.
You, or another eyeglass supplier, can request an additional copy of your prescription, which the prescriber must supply within 40 business hours -- usually the equivalent of five business days.
Similar rules are also in place for contact lenses; some of the prescribers warned by the FTC about not following the eyeglasses rules were also warned about not following the contact regulations.
Some optometrists have been known to say they can't supply a prescription because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) but this is not true, says the Commission.
For more information on the rules, see Understanding Your Prescription Rights for Glasses and Contact Lenses.
Note: An ophthalmologist is a medically qualified doctor, while an optometrist is not. An optometrist may carry out certain tests and help you with ordering and fitting glasses, but only an ophthalmologist can provide an eye health diagnosis.
Online Eyeglass Scams and Risks
As we mentioned earlier, many eyeglass wearers are turning to the Internet to fill their prescriptions. Although there are many legitimate suppliers online, shoppers are also at risk of being scammed by unqualified or dubious suppliers.
Many of these are located abroad, out of reach of US consumer laws. And some of them make outrageous claims about breakthrough technology that make their products better than others or even improve eyesight to the point where glasses are no longer needed. There's no scientific evidence to support these claims.
It's common also, as in most retail situations, for suppliers to set high suggested retail prices and then offer seemingly dramatically low prices. This is a well-known sales tactic, and usually within the law, but it underlines the importance of making price comparisons.
Other online eyeglass problems include: fake designer-label frames; hidden extra costs; failure to follow prescriptions accurately; non-existent customer service.
One big question is whether or not you should actually get your eyes "examined" online. Some providers are perfectly legitimate but others may not be licensed or accredited.
In general, the American Optometric Association (AOA) does not support online testing, reporting in one case that an eye disease was not identified during an online exam.
"While there are some great technologies out there, there's absolutely no substitution for a full, in-person comprehensive eye examination, and we have to watch out for unethical technologies and services that take advantage of people," says AOA consultant Andrew Morgenstern.
The respected WebMD medical site points out that online vision tests only do that -- test your vision. They don't and mostly can't check the health of your eyes. (For more on this, see Can I Test My Vision Online?)
If you're shopping for eyeglasses or contact lenses online, take the following 5 steps to reduce the risk of being scammed:
- Check the provider's official credentials and accreditation, whether they are US-based or abroad.
- Check the reputation of the provider through a regular search engine like Google or Bing, using the name of the firm and words like "complaint" or "scam."
- Establish the firm's returns policy and insured shipping arrangements.
- As with all retail products, beware of outrageously low prices. They usually signal a scam.
- Beware of online vision testers who claim to be able to check the health of your eyes. They mainly can't.
An estimated one quarter of the world's population wear corrective lenses of one sort or another. That makes eyewear extremely big business. Your eyes are too precious to put at risk for the sake of a supposed bargain or apparent convenience.
Alert of the Week
Did you know that during the current health crisis, you can get free weekly credit reports from the three big reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian, and Transunion?
The three just announced they're extending the free service until April next year. But make sure you go the correct site to get your info: AnnualCreditReport.com. Beware of pretenders who will either charge you or steal your confidential information.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!