(WMC-TV) - Two federal agencies and regulators in 29 states are investigating unsolicited calls that offer free medical alert systems as part of an elaborate phishing scam originating overseas.
The Action News 5 Investigators obtained a recording of one of the calls, which left a Nashville 615 area-coded number on caller I-D. The call's pre-recorded message says the recipient is eligible for a free medical alert system -- "...the I've-fallen-and-I-can't-get-up type of system you see on TV," according to the message.
"You are being contacted because either yourself, a friend or family member or even someone you know has experienced a fall in the past," the message continues.
"I've never had a fall, nor has anyone I know experienced a fall," said Orange Mound's Ernestine Henderson, who got the call four times in a month, according to her caller I-D. "No one I know nor have I inquired about a medical alert system."
"We've received ten of those calls," said Cris Williams, a cyber-security manager who got the calls at his Cordova home.
We have tried to call the numbers listed on caller I-D for the solicitations, only to receive an announcement that the numbers are not working numbers.
"A lot of these calls are coming from overseas," said Charles Pemberton, the Tennessee Regulatory Authority's director of the Tennessee Do Not Call List.
"Generating from Asia, even Australia," said Williams.
The message prompts the calls' recipients to punch "1" to arrange delivery of the medical alert system "...that's already been paid for," according to the recording.
"What will happen is they will be transferred to a real person who will try to, in some way, sell them something, or at least obtain their credit card number or information about them," Pemberton said.
"They're now using disposable cell phones," he added, "and lay an automatic dialer or sim card over those and use the disposable cell phones, which, as you can figure out, you can't trace those."
"They'll hire Americans with a very nice, pleasant, friendly American accent and then pay them $5,000 to actually make these recordings that you're hearing," Williams said.
Tennessee Regulatory Authority spokesperson Greg Mitchell said the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are working with telecom officials in 29 states in an attempt to pinpoint the calls' origins.
"We would advise that if the recipient of the call does not recognize the caller via caller ID, then simply do not answer the call," Mitchell said. "By engaging the call, it could indicate to the automated caller that the recipient's telephone number is valid and subject the recipient to more calls of this type."
Henderson called its bluff. She hung up on the fourth call.
"I don't need medical alert," she said. "If I fall, I can still get up."
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