Chaperone Medical Alert Systems / Charges up front for a year of monitoring fees and refuses to refund unused fees upon return of equipment
This merchant - Russell Sensler - is the vendor of a 'Personal Emergency Response System' which is marketed at the following website:
A PERS (Personal Emergency Response System) is a device that's worn as either a bracelet or necklace. If you need help, you simply press a button on the PERS device and a central emergency station is instantly signaled by phone. The emergency station promptly communicates with you via a special wide area speaker-phone that is usually included with the PERS device. After the emergency station learns the nature of the emergency, a call is made (in accordance with pre-arranged instructions) to the appropriate person or persons 911, for instance, or a neighbor or family member.
The charge is broken down as follows:
The unit cost was $179.95 and the monitoring is $16.95 per month for a 12 month plan. $16.95 x 12 = $203.40 The total first year plan is $383.35.
Please note that I was never given any choice as to whether I wanted to pay month by month or for the entire year of monitoring up front.
As my mother is now 89 years old and very frail and cannot be safely left alone, I decided after some research into these devices, to make the purchase from this vendor. Unfortunately we only had the unit connected for a few days when, during my absence, my elderly mother mistakenly pressed the 'panic button' on the pendant alerting first responders and resulting in an ambulance arriving at the house and a subsequent hospital admission. As it seemed at that time that she was not a good candidate for the system, I contemplated returning it at that time which was still well within the first 30 days of ownership and even discussed this with the vendor.
On the following page of his website can be found the following:
1 - REFUND POLICY:
Chaperone Medical Alert Systems offers you a 30 day Unconditional Money Back Guarantee on all purchased systems.
3 - PURCHASES:
Chaperone Medical Alert Systems guarantees to buy back the equipment for $100.00 within the first 36 months from the date of purchase if you no longer need our system.
The attending physician at the hospital had thought that my mother would benefit from a short term stay at a rehabilitation facility for some physical therapy and a request for authorization was submitted to her insurance company for such a stay. The request was subsequently denied but, prior to the denial, I was under the impression that any day she would be going away for at least a few weeks to the facility. I had also felt that it would be possible to train my mother as to when would and when would not be an appropriate time to summon help via the PERS so I called Sensler on the phone to tell him what had happened and to discuss the situation with him. That phone call was followed up with an email the next day:
To: russell AT chaperonealert.com
Sent: Tuesday, September 07, 2010 1:28 PM
Subject: Re: Chaperone medical alert inquiry
Hello again Russell. Thank you for your time on the phone yesterday. Again my apologies for burdening you with perhaps more details of what happened than you have any interest in knowing. I just felt that you are entitled to an explanation. I am a businessman too and there's nothing worse than working hard to get a sale and thinking you have it all sewn up only to have it reversed on you down the line.
As I said, it would be my preference to keep the equipment. As you of course know, I researched this matter as thoroughly as I could and came to the conclusion that this investment was the right thing to do but there was no anticipating every possibility such as my mother pushing the panic button for an illegitimate reason. Again if I could do it over, I would not have installed it just before leaving her alone for a weekend but rather I'd have had it installed when I would be here for some time just in case so she would have time to acclimate to it. Hopefully I can educate her as to when is and when is not an appropriate occasion to press the panic button. Indeed her summoning help on the morning of Sunday 8/15 was not for a bonafide emergency. Unfortunately she was nonetheless taken from the house and admitted to xxxxxx Hospital but discharged to me the next day. At least she was OK. I've been afraid to leave the pendant with her ever since that false alarm in case she would do it again.
As we discussed, according to what I have been able to find out, she can be admitted to the xxxxxx for a 100 day stay for intensive rehab therapy with no payment out of pocket from us. Whether or not she will agree to stay that long is another issue but assuming a 3 month stay, there is of course no sense paying the monitoring fee for those 3 months if she will not be here so, if indeed we can arrange to suspend monthly billing for the next 3 months and resume it thereafter, I see no reason not to keep the device. It is possible as I said that we may need to resume it sooner if she insists on coming home sooner.
I think we will be admitting her in about another week. What is not clear to me though is how the fact that we need to suspend billing for 3 months reconciles with the fact that we were prebilled for the first 12 months. Can you please get back to me and let me know how that is to be handled?
His response was as follows:
From: russell AT chaperonealert.com
Date: 9/7/2010 4:19:36 PM
When you want to turn off the monitoring service, please let me know 24 hours before the turn off date.
You paid for 12 months, and we owe you 12 months.
It will not make any difference at all as to when we turn the service on or off, you will still get a full 12 months of monitoring.
Based on this, I decided to keep the unit to possibly reconnect it at a later time. In retrospect, that was a poor decision. I should have realized immediately that her cognitive decline is such that she clearly was not a good candidate for the system and that my optimism with respect to her learning not to false alarm the system was irrational. In subsequent discussions with health professionals, I learned that it is not at all unusual for elderly people to mistakenly summon help and that therefore a PERS in not a good option for such people - something which someone in Sensler's position should certainly know although he never volunteered any such information at that time or suggested that I would be well to just send the system back as we were still within the 30 day Unconditional Money Back Guarantee period at that time.
As stated, the unit was intended for my mother but she is no longer residing at this location. She has since been moved to the home of her daughter where someone is always home with her and they have indicated that they do not feel any need to install the equipment there so, a few weeks ago, I contacted Russell Sensler to let him know that unfortunately, I would need to return the equipment as we no longer have any use for it.
Date: 12/16/2010 2:21:43 PM
To: russell AT chaperonealert.com
Hello Russell. I hope all is well with you and yours.
As it regards our Chaperone purchase, unfortunately it turns out to have been a mistake not due to any defect in the product or customer service or monitoring service - all of which were as advertised - but simply as a matter of my mother not being a good candidate for it in the first place - something no one could have predicted. Of course you will recall that incident in August - the first time she was left alone with the unit and she false alarmed it resulting in a visit by first responders and a hospital admission.
In any case, I remained optimistic that we could work out the kinks and train her as to when would be appropriate to press the panic button and when not and that a PERS would be a viable avenue for my mother's protection and well-being. However the most recent development is that, as of a few weeks ago, she is no longer living here with me at the house in xxxxxx but has been relocated to her daughter's home in xxxxxx.
It seemed to me it would still make sense to keep the system for use up there but that side of the family has declined to make use of it maintaining that someone is always present in the home and that my mother is not left alone while there.
At this point, as much as I hate to do it, I will need to make arrangements to return the equipment. I understood/understand from the Warranties & Returns section of the website that 'Chaperone Medical Alert Systems guarantees to buy back the equipment for $100.00 within the first 36 months from the date of purchase if you no longer need our system'.
I'm terribly sorry about this turn of events Russell.
Please message back at your convenience as to what steps I should take next.
Thank you and again my apologies.
He responded with return instructions and the statement that 'Upon receipt of same you will receive the $100.00 buy back.'
My response was 'OK Russell but we also got billed an additional $203.40 for 12 months of monitoring we didn't use.'
His response was as follows:
Re: Chaperone purchase
From: russell AT chaperonealert.com
Date: 12/16/2010 6:00:31 PM
Our monitoring fees are non refundable.
Please find attached a copy of a file named MONITORING_AGREEMENT_12_MOS. Please note the language on this page under the subheading PAYMENT AND TERMS:
For monitoring service, you agree to pay to CMA the sum of $_16.95_________ per month for each month or the total sum of $___203.40_________ for a 12____month pre-paid agreement. The original term is_TWELVE__ MONTH (S) and renews thereafter unless terminated as set forth below.
Please note that nowhere does it say that this pre-paid 12 months for monitoring service charges is non-refundable or does the vendor reserve the right to not refund any unused part of the pre-paid 12 monthly fees. I would never have agreed to that. Again I was never given any choice as to whether I wanted to pay month by month or for the entire year of monitoring up front. Furthermore there is also no language on his website that this money will be withheld in the event of a return.
The vendor should certainly have informed me at the time that I let him know that I was originally contemplating returning the equipment in September when we were still within the 30 day Unconditional Money Back Guarantee period of his contention that monitoring fees are non-refundable and that he would refuse to refund the full 12 months charges of $203.40 if I kept the unit but nothing was said during those communications either or I would surely have sent it back then. My understanding up until his statement in the 12/16/10 email that 'Our monitoring fees are non refundable' was that the only expense I would incur by returning the equipment after the 30 day Unconditional Money Back Guarantee period had lapsed would be $75 - the difference between the $175 for the unit and the for $100 for which he agrees to 'buy back the equipment within the first 36 months from the date of purchase if you no longer need our system'. There was no mention of withholding of the prepaid monitoring fees either orally or in any email communications prior to the 12/16/10 email message or anywhere either in the text of his website or in the monitoring agreement.
I have since returned the equipment and he has informed me that he has mailed out a $100 check to us.
In the interest of fairness, this charge for $203.40 for monitoring service charges - only a few days of which were ever used, should be refunded.