According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 15% of adults in the United States have some degree of hearing loss. The prevalence of hearing loss increases with age, affecting 25% of people 65 to 74 and about half of adults over the age of 75 (NIH, 2021). Despite the pervasiveness of hearing loss, many individuals do not pursue hearing aids or wait a considerable amount of time before purchasing them.
A commonly cited reason for the procrastination or outright avoidance of pursuing amplification is the expense associated with hearing aids. They are definitely an investment, which is why it is extremely important to place your trust and money in a provider and devices that will be appropriate and beneficial to treat your hearing loss. Hearing aids are a medical device that are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and can only be dispensed by licensed providers, either an audiologist or a hearing aid dispenser.
Like all fields, there are providers with more skill and integrity than others. There are also a lot of unregulated devices on the market which advertise themselves as hearing aids but do not offer the same benefit as traditional hearing aids. In this article, we are going to cover common hearing aid rip-offs aka scams, and what to keep an eye out for so you don’t lose money and time.
What Are Some Common Hearing Aid Rip-Offs I Should Look Out For?
- One-size-fits-all (or most) hearing solutions
There are a variety of hearing aid styles to suit different types and degrees of hearing loss, as well as patient preference and comfort. While there are some hearing aids, such as receiver-in-canal (RIC), that offer a very wide fitting range, there is still a considerable degree of programming to the patient’s specific hearing loss in order for them to function optimally. A “one-size-fits-all” model is likely going to make all sounds louder, which is not helpful in improving clarity for people with hearing loss.
- Pricing that Sounds “Too Good to be True”
There is quite a range of pricing for hearing aids, depending on whether they are over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription, and the technology level. Typically, the cost of traditional prescription hearing aids includes service from the dispensing provider and manufacturer warranty.
For example, a pair of hearing aids might cost $4,000 but include two years of loss and damage warranty as well as the cost of any needed appointments for adjustments. You should know exactly what you’re paying for and what is covered with that charge, and if there is an advertisement for a significant discount it could be a red flag. Ensure that there is a trial period and check the return policy for any hearing aids you are considering purchasing.
- Unsubstantiated or dramatic claims
While there are certainly indicators of good candidacy for hearing aids, there is no guarantee that any devices will result in optimal performance. In fact, hearing aids are not like glasses and are not a quick fix for hearing loss.
There is an adjustment period, and there will always be situations where hearing is still challenging. Any provider or device that advertises a quick fix or 100% improvement in hearing is something to avoid.
- No warranties or returns
Most manufacturers provide some warranty, though they can vary in terms of the length and what is included in the warranty.
Most states also have a mandatory trial period for hearing aids, which also varies in length by state, which allows patients to return hearing aids for a full refund less the cost of the fitting fee. Any products that do not offer a warranty and/or an option to return the devices should be avoided, no matter how enticing the price may look.
- Short trial periods
On that note, hearing aids do have a significant adjustment period and it is essential to wear them all waking hours to have the best success.
If a trial period is extremely short (say, only a week) that really isn’t going to be enough time to make a judgment about whether they are the best fit. Make sure you have at least a month to try the devices with the option to return or exchange for a different model or technology level.
- Getting a Mail Order Hearing Aid
Like the “one-size-fits-all” claims, ordering something through the mail is unlikely to give you the hearing performance you are seeking. Getting a device that is programmed for your hearing loss by a licensed professional is the best option for success.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) options
OTC hearing aids are only designed for people with a mild to moderate degree of hearing loss and do not involve a professional to fit or service the devices. Most are self-fit, meaning the individual would perform their own hearing test using an app or website and then that data would be used to “program” the OTC hearing aids.
Some of the more expensive models more closely approximate prescription hearing aids in that they offer rechargeability, multiple programs, and streaming capabilities. OTC hearing aids can be a good option for patients who are on a budget, but only if they have mild to moderate hearing loss and feel comfortable with the self-fitting technology involved. A full diagnostic hearing evaluation with a professional would still be recommended prior to purchasing any OTC devices.
How Should I Find A Provider?
The first step when you notice you are having difficulty hearing is to find a trusted professional who can perform a diagnostic audiological evaluation to determine the type and degree of hearing loss. This individual will either be an audiologist or a hearing aid dispenser, depending on the type of setting. Audiologists are Masters or Doctoral level clinicians who have been specially trained in the science of hearing and balance. Hearing aid dispensers have received training in performing basic diagnostic hearing testing as well as the fitting and servicing of hearing aids. The requirements and training for hearing aid dispensers varies slightly by state.
You can search for hearing aids or hearing evaluations in your area, or you can seek out a specific type of clinic (private practice, ENT office, university clinic, etc.) based on your preference. Additionally, you can use the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) or American Academy of Audiology (AAA) directories to find an audiologist near you.
After your evaluation, the professional will be able to explain your hearing test results and discuss whether you are a candidate for hearing aids and, if so, what type would be the most appropriate. This individual probably wants you to purchase hearing aids from their office, but you are within your rights to get a second opinion or take some time before moving forward with a decision. If the provider will not give you access to your test results or pressures you to purchase hearing aids right away, they are likely not a good fit.
It is not uncommon to involve your primary care physician and/or an ear, nose and throat physician in the pursuit of hearing aids. There are some things that may emerge during the evaluation, such as a difference in hearing levels between your right and left ears, that would warrant a medical referral. Your provider should discuss this with you and be able to provide a referral before encouraging you to pursue hearing aids.
How Should I Research Which Hearing Aids Are The Best?
Most professionals work with a few different major hearing aid brands and they may have a preference for one or two based on features, programming comfort, or general experience with the manufacturer. They should be able to recommend a style and technology level with your input regarding comfort, aesthetic preferences, and your hearing needs in daily life. All of the major hearing aid manufacturers have excellent educational materials to learn more about their specific features if you and your provider are making a decision between a couple of different devices. If you trust your provider, it is a good idea to go with their recommendation as they will likely be the most skilled at working with that software and device.
As mentioned previously, the cost of prescription hearing aids is typically bundled, meaning that the service fees are included in the overall price of the devices. These prices may be slightly lower in a hospital or university setting than in a private practice where the provider has more overhead expenses to cover. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid private practices, in fact many of them are able to provide more personalized service and attention because of the way their office functions.
The professional will be able to provide you with a range of pricing based on technology level and included warranty and service fees. The pricing should be straightforward and transparent, but don’t be alarmed if you can’t find hearing aid prices on a clinic’s website or if they vary slightly by location. This is typical and has to do with the bundling.
The professional should be able to advise you about what technology level would be most appropriate based on your hearing needs and lifestyle. Generally, the higher-end devices have more advanced features in noise management and more programming options for the professional. Often you will be able to demo devices in the office, and keep in mind that all hearing aids have a trial period during which you could change your technology level if needed.
How Can I Protect Myself Against Hearing Aid Frauds And Rip-Offs?
The first thing you should do is check the licensure and qualifications of your provider. Make sure you are seeing a reputable individual who has experience with both diagnostic testing and hearing aid dispensing. You can check an audiologist in the ASHA or AAA directories above (not all audiologists will be registered with both organizations, but they should be able to provide you with their credentials and memberships) or by National Provider Identifier (NPI). You can verify a hearing aid dispenser’s license on a state-to-state basis.
Make sure that the hearing aid pricing is transparent and be wary of any big marketing pushes like “buy one get one free” or advertising big discounts. The hearing aids should have at least a 30-day trial period, and at least a one-year manufacturer warranty.
If you suspect you have been the victim of a hearing aid scam, you should discuss your concerns with the provider to ensure that there hasn’t been a misunderstanding. You should always receive a copy of a purchase agreement with your hearing aids, which is a contract outlining what the provider is responsible for in the sale of the hearing aids. If you have confirmed that fraudulent activity has occurred, you can report the provider to the state licensure board, and you can report the clinic to the Better Business Bureau.
It is always a good idea to bring a friend or family member with you for your diagnostic hearing evaluation and for any discussions about purchasing hearing aids. Not only will this individual be able to support you in your decision, they will be a second set of eyes and ears for any potentially suspicious activity.
Now You’re Ready To Move Forward With Hearing Aids!
Most providers have entered the field because they are interested in helping people and are not trying to scam you. It is important to know going in that hearing aids are going to be expensive, and to ask the right questions and know what you are paying for. Do some research to find a provider you trust and enjoy working with; the first few weeks after a hearing aid fitting may involve several appointments to adjust the hearing aids to your liking, and you will want to do this with a provider with whom you have good rapport.
After the provider has made their recommendation regarding a device, do your research to ensure that you understand the features you are paying for and the amount of service that is included in the price. Bring a loved one with you to your appointment for added peace of mind, and so that you have a witness to your initial moments of hearing with your new devices!
Erin Edwards received her Doctor of Audiology degree from Towson University in 2015 and her Ph.D. in Education and Leadership from Pacific University in 2022. She has worked with patients of all ages in a variety of settings and has a specific interest in cochlear implants, the relationship of hearing loss and dementia, and interdisciplinary healthcare.