Change of hearing aid rules widens net for tricksters: Internet Scambusters #1,055
Thirty-seven million Americans have hearing difficulties but only a fraction of them actually use hearing aids.
But new rules, introduced late last year, now allow some devices to be bought without a prescription or hearing test.
Although buying "over the counter" (OTC) will bring big cuts in prices, they also open the way for dubious sellers who are just out to make a quick buck, as we explain in this week's issue.
Let's get started…
Listen Up: Don't Get Caught By These Hearing Aid Scams
A revolution in the hearing aid world has opened the door to faster and cheaper access to devices - and to a new wave of bad practices and scams.
Since last October, consumers have been able to buy certain types of hearing devices "over the counter" (OTC), that's to say, without an exam or prescription.
The idea behind the move is to eliminate some of the costs of buying an aid if you suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss.
It means you could skip a hearing exam, fitting, and adjustment and just buy in a store or even online. Of course, that's not always a good thing, since everyone's hearing is different, and the best way to get a device that works well for you and fits properly is still to consult an audiologist and have your hearing issues properly diagnosed.
Nevertheless, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has updated regulations to allow people aged 18 and over, with a low level of hearing impairment, to buy what are called "air induction" hearing aids without going through this process.
Enter the Scammers
In a way, the new rule is akin to shoppers' ability to buy reading glasses over the counter. It's up to you, the consumer, to decide what you need.
Certainly, it brings the cost of buying a device into the hundreds of dollars rather than the thousands you could pay via a prescription.
But some firms are exploiting the change by using misleading ads and using all sorts of dubious marketing tricks.
- Making false or misleading claims about the technology behind devices
- Offering huge discounts based on fictional retail prices
- Pretending you're part of a trial that gives you a special low price
- Selling devices that are not proper hearing aids but just sound amplifiers
- Failing to offer suitable trial periods, returns policies and warranties
- Hiding additional fees and upcharges
- Limited time deals forcing people to act too quickly
- Supposed "free" offers that are actually covered by the price you pay
- "Free" tests designed to talk you into buying more expensive devices
- Letting you think you're buying a pair before discovering you're only buying one device
In other words, some of these shysters aren't really interested in your hearing, just in how many devices they can sell.
In one recent case, a leading hearing aids dealer was ordered to stop running ads claiming there's a government program that pays a Covid-related grant of up to $3,000 toward the cost of a device.
Another firm allegedly made a similar claim, saying buyers were entitled to a stimulus payment of $1,000. Their mailing even included a document that looked like a $1,000 check made out to the recipient.
Before You Buy OTC
There are an estimated 37 million Americans with a hearing disability, but only a fraction of them - around 6 million - use hearing aids. High cost is a major factor; the FDA hopes the new rules will encourage the rest to consider following suit.
The first challenge is that unless you consult a professional, you probably don't know whether your hearing loss is worse that "moderate." But you could arrange an examination, which may be covered by insurance, to get a diagnosis before you buy. Check with your insurer.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) also notes that buying OTC could mean missing out on professional sizing, custom earpieces, advice on proper use and maintenance, or follow-up fine tuning.
Still, according to the FDA, average costs of OTC hearing aids are about a third of the price of prescription devices, making it a worthwhile route to consider to deal with a mild or moderate impairment.
How to Protect Yourself
But your hearing is too important to take risks. If you're thinking about going this route, here's what you can do to avoid getting caught out by the tricksters.
- Research and understand the difference between a hearing aid and a simple amplifier. See Medical News Today: Hearing Amplifiers vs. Hearing Aids: What's the Difference?
- Related to this, check if the device's sound settings can be customized - that is, that they don't just have a volume control.
- Ignore the "free" come-ons. Offers might include a small payment for just taking a test, a buy-one-get-one-free, a year's supply of batteries. You're paying!
- Don't yield to deadline sales pressure. Take your time.
- Secure a reasonable trial period - 30 days as a minimum, 90 days ideally.
- Similarly, check return policy and warranties - and get them in writing. No warranty? Don't buy.
- Shop around to compare prices and features.
- Always look for evidence to back up claims, particularly about technology.
- Check the reputation of a seller by doing an online search and checking ratings with the Better Business Bureau.
- Check if the supplier is registered with the FDA and the seller can prove devices comply with the regulations. Even though they're sold direct, OTC hearing aids are still regulated by the FDA.
- Beware of being tricked into buying add-ons you don't need - for example, a Bluetooth radio connection.
- Check if the provider offers aftercare - such as adjustments, repair, replacement, and so on.
To learn more, see this report from the NCOA: Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids—What to Know.
Above all, take the time to do your hearing aid research so you know exactly what you're looking for. And steer clear of outrageous claims and offers. They simply don't add up.
This Week's Scam Alerts
Crypto Crooks: The cryptocurrency industry and its users lost more than $4 billion to hacks and scams last year. In a horrifying incident, a Canadian man was recently scammed out of his home and entire life savings. Crooks tricked him into making an initial investment then pointed him to a phony dashboard showing massive gains and luring him into putting in more and more until he had nothing left.
Sour Note: Watch out for email attachments that end in ".one". This is the format for files used in Microsoft's digital notebook app OneNote. Clicking on the attachment loads malware onto your PC. Researchers report a surge in these messages during the past couple of months. They say because it's new and relatively unusual, it may have been able to bypass security software.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!