Four Ways To Spot and Avoid Hearing Aid Scams
Even the best hearing aids can't restore normal hearing or eliminate all background noise. But scammers make all kinds of claims without the proof to back them up. Here are four ways to avoid some common scams.
- Don’t do business with someone who says, “no prescription or audiogram needed.” There’s no one size fits all hearing aid. That’s because of variations in ear canal sizes, comfort, and individual hearing loss. A hearing test will tell you which frequencies (pitch) across the wide range of audible sounds should be made louder to improve your hearing. Put simply, you need a hearing aid that fits your ears and the type of hearing loss you’re experiencing. If you suspect you’re suffering hearing loss, consider making an appointment with a hearing professional and get a prescription specific to your hearing loss and needs.
- Don’t believe dramatic claims. Claims like “helps you hear up to 30 times better” are almost certainly false. Here are a few steps you can take to check out extreme claims.
- Do an online search for the name of the company, the device, and the words, “complaint,” “scam,” or “fraud.” Even a quick search may reveal issues with the claims, the product, or company.
- Who is responsible for the hearing aid ad? Can you find independent evidence, apart from the ad, that could help you check out the claim the company is making?
- Don’t rush to get a “limited time offer.” Companies may use gimmicks like “buy one get one free” promotions or “limited time offers” to push you into buying quickly. Don’t do it. There’s more to picking out hearing aids than the price — including correct fit, personalized features, and comfort.
- Avoid direct to consumer hearing aid sellers who don’t require a prescription. Ads might promise “unbelievable discounts” by “buying direct.” But while you might feel like you’re getting a better deal financially, you wouldn’t be getting the insight and professional recommendation to improve your hearing. In addition, you might end up buying a product that harms your ability to hear because it may only have two amplification settings — everything loud and everything louder.
Hearing Specialists and Types of Hearing Loss
If you’re shopping for hearing aids, here are some things to consider.
- Talk to your doctor.They can rule out correctable causes of hearing loss, like earwax or an infection. Three types of hearing loss are most common.
- Conductive hearing lossinvolves the outer ear, the middle ear, or both. It usually results from a blockage from earwax, fluid in the middle ear, or a punctured eardrum. Conductive hearing loss often can be corrected medically or surgically.
- Sensorineural or “nerve” hearing losstypically involves damage to the inner ear. It can be caused by disease, illness, age, injury from exposure to noise or certain medicines, or a genetic disorder. Usually, sensorineural hearing loss cannot be cured medically or surgically, but its impact often can be reduced — and hearing improved — with hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing lossis a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.
- Get a referral for testing by a reputable hearing specialist. They will assess your hearing and help you choose and adjust a hearing aid. That specialist may be an audiologist, an otolaryngologist, or a hearing aid dispenser.
- An audiologistis a trained professional who measures hearing and can fit hearing aids. An audiologist has at least a master's degree and specialized training in hearing loss. Many audiologists now have an AuD (doctorate) degree, too, and some may have a PhD.
- An otolaryngologistis a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the head and neck, especially those involving the ears, nose, and throat (ENT).
- A hearing aid dispenseris someone authorized by state law to measure hearing and to fit and sell hearing aids. The credentials for becoming a hearing aid dispenser vary by state. They typically involve working as an apprentice to a certified dispenser and passing a test about hearing aids. Although many audiologists sell hearing aids, a hearing aid dispenser is not necessarily an audiologist.
A Checklist Before You Buy
If you and your doctor decide you need hearing aids, here are some next steps.
- Ask about a trial period. It may take you a while to get used to the device and decide if it's right for you. Most states require a 30- to 60-day trial period. Find out what fees are refundable if you return the hearing aid during the trial period. Make sure the refund policy is written into the purchase agreement.
- Buy what you need. Some additional features like Bluetooth capability are convenient extras, but they can add hundreds of dollars to your bill. If you don’t think you’ll use it, don’t buy it.
- Find out the total price. What’s included in the price? Hearing aids, fitting services, follow-up, and more? Get an itemized list, and make sure you get any verbal quotes and promises in writing.
- Check with your insurance. Health insurance plans, including Medicare, typically pay for diagnostic hearing evaluation, but many plans do not cover hearing aids. If you can’t afford a hearing aid, contact the National Institute of Health, (NIH) National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) for information about organizations that offer financial help.
- Check for a warranty. Get the details. How long is the warranty? Can it be extended? Does it cover maintenance and repairs? Is it honored by the manufacturer or by the licensed hearing health care professional? In some cases, a manufacturer may not honor its warranty unless you buy the hearing aid from an authorized seller. You also may be protected by implied warranties created by state law.
- Ask about loaners. Ask if you’ll get a free loaner hearing aid if your device needs servicing or repair.
Government Agencies Working To Protect Your Rights
Buying the right hearing aids to meet your needs might feel overwhelming, but there are agencies protecting your rights, as well as resources you can turn to for help.
The FTC enforces laws that say people can’t lie or try to mislead you about how hearing aids work or how they’ll improve your hearing — or refund policies and warranty coverage. The FDA enforces rules about the manufacture and sale of hearing aids. Businesses can only sell hearing aids that meet FDA requirements.
Many states also have laws governing hearing aid sales and implied warranties. Your state attorney general can tell you what laws apply in your state.
Links to Other Hearing Aid Resources
Wherever you are in the process of finding the right hearing aids to meet your needs, here are some additional resources that may help.
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
File a Report About a Device
Report medical device problems, including malfunctions and product quality issues with hearing aids to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) MedWatch. MedWatch is program for reporting serious reactions with drugs, cosmetics, and issues with medical devices, including hearing aids.
If you think you’ve spotted a scam, tell your friends and family about it so they can protect themselves, then report it to the FTC. Your reports help the FTC and our law enforcement partners build cases and stop scammers.
ReportFraud.ftc.gov is the federal government’s website where you can report fraud, scams, and bad business practices.