Need to know
- In a two-hour visit to the woman's home, a Theracare Home 'health assessment' turned into a sales pitch for an expensive adjustable bed
- Theracare Home's sales tactics are similar to the practices CHOICE exposed in our investigation of adjustable bed maker Revitalife
- The Queensland Office of Fair Trading says sales tactics of this nature would be of interest
In mid-September, we were contacted by a Queensland resident who was alarmed by an incident involving his 80-year-old mum.
"My 80-year-old mother, who was recently widowed and is emotionally vulnerable, received a cold call from a lady who purported to be engaging with elderly residents in her suburb in order to provide services to connect the elderly with appropriate service organisations and assistance in the area," Brian tells us. (Not his real name.)
"In the course of the call, the lady dropped trigger words such as NDIS, Aged Care providers, Veterans Affairs etc., in such a way that my mother believed it was a government organisation coming to assess her for in-home care."
At no stage prior to this was there any mention that the consultant represented a retailer of expensive electric beds and chairs and that the lady was a salesperson
According to Brian, the "consultant" followed up with a two-hour visit to his mum's house, asking about her health issues and which medications she was taking.
The visit culminated in the consultant recommending that Brian's mother buy an expensive adjustable bed that was available on a payment plan with a low upfront deposit. (The business also offers interest-free financing.)
"At no stage prior to this was there any mention that the consultant represented a retailer of expensive electric beds and chairs and that the lady was a salesperson," Brian says. "The inference was that they were a healthcare organisation connecting the elderly with local services.
"My mother was ready to sign after two and a half hours with the consultant, but luckily she called me to check first."
Buying sight unseen
Brian told the consultant his mum wouldn't be buying a bed sight unseen. According to Brian, the consultant said her clients regularly bought beds without seeing them first, but added that his mum could visit an office in Southport, Queensland, to see the bed first.
The consultant also told Brian his mum was "in perfect health", as if she had conducted a medical examination – and without any evidence of her medical qualifications.
"I asked her to leave the details and I would take mum there next week," Brian says. "After my phone call she convinced mum to go alone to see the bed that same afternoon."
His mum went to see the bed, but didn't buy it.
Since the incident, Brian has confirmed that his mum's mobile and landline are on the Do Not Call Register. There are some exemptions, but cold-calling an 80 year-old widow to set up a sales visit is not one of them.
Theracare Home's ad seems to suggest it's a healthcare company rather than a bed retailer.
New business, same tactics
Our long-running investigation into the Gold Coast-based retailer of "therapeutic sleep systems" found that Revitalife sales representatives had been passing themselves off as health and aged-care professionals and that the company was using online and telephone health and sleep surveys as sales tools to flog adjustable beds priced between $4000 and $8000-plus to older Australians.
Now it seems a new operation has adopted very similar tactics.
The business in question, Theracare Home, was set up in June 2020, and promotes the fact that it was "founded during the COVID-19 pandemic".
Its website, which was registered in February 2021, also says the company works closely with "NDIS approved suppliers, My Aged Care approved suppliers, Veteran Affairs approved suppliers, to name a few".
At least two Theracare Home salespeople are former Revitalife salespeople.
(Note: A different business called Theracare delivers services for people with autism and has no connection to Theracare Home.)
Theracare Home starts with a cold call asking about health issues and offering a home visit.
More people come forward
In mid-November this year, we heard from a woman in Victoria who was recently visited by a Theracare Home salesperson after taking part in an unsolicited telephone health survey.
Mary (not her real name) recognised the salesperson who showed up at her home as the woman who had sold her and her husband a Revitalife bed some years earlier after her husband had taken part in a similar health survey.
Mary had several problems with the bed and attempted to get a refund, but Revitalife made it very difficult. Only after Melbourne-based consumer rights organisation Consumer Action got involved was Mary eventually able to get her money back.
As part of the arrangement, her phone number was put on the Do Not Call register and Revitalife was prohibited from contacting her again. Mary describes the experience of trying to get a refund as "nine or 10 months of hell".
She said she was doing a survey for a medications company and asked if I had arthritis or high blood pressure, that sort of thing
A familiar face
"I was surprised to get this phone call," Mary says of the recent call that led to the Theracare Home sales visit. "The woman was doing a survey on health and I can't understand why I even participated in it because I've been so wary of phone calls like that.
"She said she was doing a survey for a medications company and asked if I had arthritis or high blood pressure, that sort of thing. I answered those questions and then I didn't hear anything else until two weeks ago.
"And this lady rang and said, 'I believe you've taken part in a health survey, and we can send somebody around now to talk to you about that and maybe help you'. So lo and behold, who turns up on Monday? The lady that we dealt with at Revitalife."
The woman was now representing Theracare Home and, after discussing Mary's arthritis, tried to sell Mary a $4500 Sophie reclining chair, then a $5200 Sophie adjustable bed.
Despite being offered several on-the-spot discounts, Mary declined to buy either product.
'Unable to read the small print'
Another concerned consumer also came forward in late November to tell us their very elderly relative had a cold call from Theracare Home in Canberra.
"A lady visited and my relative thought that her aged care provider had sent her to do one of their regular surveys of clients," the person says. "She was signed up to buy a bed although she is unable to read the small print in the contract. I found out when she asked me to read it to her."
The contract for the 92-year-old was cancelled within the 10-day cooling off period.
She was signed up to buy a bed although she is unable to read the small print in the contract
Theracare Home responds
Despite Brian's description of his mum's experience and our other case studies, a Theracare Home spokesperson tells CHOICE the business "clearly states that we are a private business that retails a range of therapeutic products within 30 to 45 seconds of our first phone call".
The spokesperson said there is no link between Theracare Home or Sleep Sophie beds and Revitalife. According to Theracare Home, its phone approach (regarding its sales declaration) also applies to its home visits.
"Within three to five minutes of commencing the appointment, the representative will always clearly state the name of the company, the fact that it is a privately held company, and that we retail a range of therapeutic products that may or may not be suitable," the spokesperson says. "We are very upfront and forthright in this regard, leaving no room for miscommunication at any step."
We are very upfront and forthright ... leaving no room for miscommunication at any stepTheracare Home spokesperson
But Brian disputes these claims. "Mum is sure that in the initial phone call the lady either explicitly stated they were a government organisation or that they worked closely with a government organisation," he says. "At no time during that call did they divulge they were a retailer. They were offering an in-home private health assessment."
Given the details of the case, a spokesperson for the Queensland Office of Fair Trading says the agency "cannot comment specifically on this consumer's dealings with this trader", but added "in general terms, the type of conduct outlined is something the OFT would investigate".
"Consumers who have experienced similar sales practices are encouraged to lodge a complaint with OFT," the spokesperson says.
Have you or someone you know had an experience with Theracare Home? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Two of the people in this story were on the Do Not Call register when they received calls from Theracare Home representatives, a violation of the register's rules, since Theracare Home is a retail business.
Under telemarketing legislation, callers have to tell you the name of the company they work for and why they're calling – something Theracare Home didn't do, according to the people in our story.
The rules for door-to-door sales require salespeople to explain the purpose of their visit. If they're there to sell you an adjustable bed or other product, they would be violating these rules by suggesting or saying they've come to check on your health needs.