Monday, March 24, 2014

Senior Mobile Phones: $97 Is Not Free

CompTek couldn't sell their overpriced laptops, so now they're "giving away" phones that cost $97.

This ad ran in both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune. It's one of the most flagrantly misleading of all the ones from the scammers at Arthur Middleton Capital Holdings of Canton, Ohio, which I have written about over the years.

It says some version of the phrase "free phone" 21 times. It says the government urges you to carry a cell phone. It does everything except stand on its head to sound like it's an official announcement. It makes it sound like the company sponsoring the ad is so good-hearted that it's giving you a discount.

And then it slips in a $97 "activation fee" in a couple of spots. How does "the phones are being handed over to St. Paul area seniors for free" fit with that $97 charge? How is $97 free?

The part that irks me the most about the ad -- even more than the bait-and-switch from free to $97 plus shipping -- is the way it threatens the reader. "Yet millions of seniors are still risking their safety by not having [a phone]..." and "I'm so happy we got the phones. Now I know she'll be safe and I don't have to worry about her going out alone anymore..." and "Things can change in a blink of an eye. Imagine being all alone in an emergency..."

There are additional complications lurking in the phone's details, I suspect. You don't have to buy any minutes with it if you only plan to use it for emergencies, but it "comes with 250 anytime minutes good for sixty days. After that just call Senior Mobile to reload your phone with additional minutes as an added option..." No mention of what those added minutes cost, and it's not really totally clear if the first 250 minutes are included in the free/$97 initial cost.

Also, note that, in addition to the unknown shipping charge, returning the phone if you don't like it is a dicey proposition. According to the fine print, you have to return it at your own expense within 10 days in like-new condition. Your refund will be less shipping (what shipping? you paid for the shipping in both directions already) and a 15 percent "restocking" fee. And -- get this -- they are not responsible for lost returned shipments. So all they have to do is say they never got your returned phone.

I don't even know what trac phones and minutes cost on the market -- maybe $97 isn't that bad a deal with 250 minutes, if that's what CompTek is selling here. But the fact that they hide the price behind a free claim, along with their appeals to safety, make me suspect their motives and therefore their pricing.

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