Regular advertiser in local newspaper charged with fraud targeting elderly

pageEditor’s note: State officials have alleged that McDonald Hearing Aid Center — a regular advertiser in The Union newspaper, among others — “advertised a $745 hearing aid product to lure consumers into stores where they were pressured and misled into purchasing products costing several thousand dollars.” Court documents are here. According to The Union, MHAC said it will “vigorously defend against baseless statements made to the media, and the allegations.” Here is the state’s press release:

“The Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensers Board (Board) is seeking to revoke or suspend the licenses of Mark Lee Moore, owner of McDonald Hearing Aid Center (MHAC), Robert Bennett, Michele Moreland and Marion Nelson for fraudulent and unlicensed activity.

“Moore is accused of using unlawful schemes to mislead elderly customers at multiple branch locations throughout Northern California where licensed hearing aid dispensers and unlicensed individuals acting as dispensers were motivated by corporate policies to sell the most expensive hearing aids. Bennett, Moreland and Nelson are licensed hearing aid dispensers who worked at various MHAC branch locations, including Lodi, Roseville, Fair Oaks and Sacramento.

“MHAC advertised a $745 hearing aid product to lure consumers into stores where they were pressured and misled into purchasing products costing several thousand dollars. Moore is also accused of using former television news anchor Stan Atkinson as a paid spokesperson without informing consumers of Atkinson’s paid status.

“These individuals took advantage of elderly people, running a bait and switch technique to mislead them into spending thousands of dollars unnecessarily,” said Board Executive Officer Paul Sanchez. “We are seeking to discipline their licenses because we are committed to protecting California’s consumers and safeguarding them from unscrupulous people.”

“MHAC is the second largest seller of hearing aids in the Sacramento Valley area. Between January 2007 and November 2013, MHAC grossed $45 million in hearing aid sales.”

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

9 thoughts on “Regular advertiser in local newspaper charged with fraud targeting elderly”

  1. It is time for The Union’s management (Jim Hemig et al.) to get off the Dorsey Marketplace drumbeat for a few days and write a column to readers informing them of the newspaper’s standards for accepting advertising — one of its main responsibilities.

    Though unrelated to this issue, this full-page ad in November, titled “Global Warming Hoax,” raised some reader concerns:

    People need to know more about how the newspaper operates. It’s Journalism 101.

  2. Just as it’s true that wherever you find deer, you also find mountain lions, wherever you find the elderly, you also find the sharks who prey on them.

    When my mother was in her late eighties, frail, widowed and living alone in Paradise, California, a Kirby Vacuum Cleaner salesman drove up the mountain from Chico one day to work door-to-door in her neighborhood full of elderly widows.

    He sold my frail mom an $1800 vacuum cleaner that was too heavy for her to even move. She told me afterward (too late for us to return it), “He seemed angry and I was afraid he wouldn’t leave unless I bought the vacuum.”

    When I later called the manager of the Kirby office in Chico to chide him for these vile high-pressure tactics and to ask him how he slept at night, he pretended to not understand what I was saying.

    I always thought that a productive use of my anger in that case would have been to lobby Chico’s city council to pass an ordinance regulating the sharks from out-of-town, working the elderly neighborhoods, but I didn’t want to drag my mom into it while she was alive, and now that she’s not, I’ve lost heart for it, God help me.

    But the issue doesn’t go away. Grass Valley and Nevada City are probably just as sumptuous feeding grounds for these sharks as is Chico.

    So, finding MHAC at work here doesn’t surprise me at all.

    1. Yes, and our local newspaper could do a better job of warning — besides just passing on the press releases from law enforcement. It is a reactive, not a proactive, approach. In this case, the newspaper should examine its own practices for accepting advertising. What raises a red flag? I wonder if this conversation is over its head, however.

  3. As long as something is obviously an ad or is clearly labeled “paid advertising” or similar in the case of an advertorial like the climate denial ad, I don’t think there is much else a publisher can/should do. Beyond that how is The Union or any other publication to know if an advertiser is acting in a fraudulent manner without conducting an investigation? We must remember that the law of the land is “caveat emptor”, like it or not.

  4. Is my understanding correct in thinking a McDonalds customer could conceivably sue
    The Union for negligence (or whatever) because they got conned? Would there have to be some kind of collusion or blatent disregard of some kind for the customer to have some legal recourse with the paper? Don’t get me wrong, I think the media was and should once more be the watchdogs rather than the cheer leaders, but I hadn’t heard of this angle. It must be hard to prove or else it seems that most media outlets would go broke from legal fees just from the editorial pages alone.

  5. Sure, if it stemmed from an ad in the newspaper. That’s unrealistic, though, because McDonalds ads are written by real pros. The concept is simple: The Union (and its publisher) is responsible for all of the content that it publishes on its pages — articles, editorials, letters to the editor and ads. Why shouldn’t it be? As a result, most newspapers are careful about this, with certain policies in place about the ads’ content. We are in “podunk” land, however, when it comes to enforcing this (often lacking “big city” professionalism with less experienced newspaper managers, ad-copy writers, etc.), so it is important to be extra vigilant.

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