Dennis BeaverNovember 25, 2022 • By Dennis Beaver

It isn’t often that I am a “witness” to a glaring example of consumer fraud, but thanks to “Frank” and his grandmother, “Thelma,” I was “virtually” standing next to her, listening to an optical salesperson violate several of their state’s important consumer protection laws.

As what I heard is not limited to this very large company — whose eyewear ads on television, the internet, and in print are everywhere — I am not naming them.

In a world of coincidences, a week earlier I spoke with their general counsel who immediately ordered a refund to “Arnold” who was sold two pairs of glasses instead of being immediately sent to an ophthalmologist because of a potential retinal detachment discovered by their in-house optometrist!

That’s right. Arnold gets an eye exam, a potential detached retina is found, which is considered as a medical emergency, and the O.D.’s recommendation? “Buy a pair of eyeglasses!” More on this craziness in a moment.

App Permits Remote Recorder Activation

“We installed an app in Thelma’s cell phone that allows us to activate the voice recorder remotely. We did this because she has trouble saying ‘no.'” (They live in a state that does not require permission of all parties to record conversations.)

“Thelma accidentally sat on her glasses, damaging the frame, but had a spare pair. She saw a television commercial from this eyewear store offering frames for well under $100.

All she wanted was for her old lenses to be fitted into a new frame.

“We all went to the mall, I activated the recording app, and Thelma went directly to the eyewear store. We felt she did not need our help – and boy, were we wrong!”

“She told a salesperson, ‘I want to buy one of the frames advertised on television for under $100.’” He immediately replied, “Your old lenses are scratched and must be replaced. None of these frames are right as they would make you look like an old hag! Let’s show you something much more appropriate.’”

(Thus began a classic bait and switch, where the customer is drawn in by an attractive price but that item is knocked, and they are sold something much more expensive.)

Thelma politely protested, saying, “But I just need new frames.” Undeterred, the salesman told her, “Have a seat here, and we’ll try on some frames to see how great you would look in them.”

High Pressure for over an Hour

Frank played the recording. Over an hour, I listened to a well-crafted bait and switch practiced on a woman in her late 70s who audibly could be heard repeating, “Well, I just don’t know, all I need is just a simple frame,” until she gave in, mumbling to herself, “I shouldn’t be doing this. Frank is going to be mad at me.”

“OK, I’ll buy the new lenses and frames you recommend!” she said, adding, “I just want to go home.”

It was so sad hearing this, and from a “sale price” of $80, for frames she wound up spending close to $600 for lenses and a “designer frame.” Fortunately, everything was put on her credit card.

After Frank heard the recording, he called the store, put Thelma on the line and together they canceled the order. Then, they phoned her credit card company, alerting them to this scam and asked them to reverse any charges to the card.

“I’ve read your column for years, Mr. Beaver, and thought you would find this experience worth writing about.” He got that right.

Shields Up Phasers on Stun

Based upon the volume of complaints filed against several optical chains – not to mention lawsuits by state and federal consumer protection agencies – bait and switch appears to be a dominant business model in addition to breach of contract and consumer fraud.

Additionally, fake “list prices” are shown, and then the salesperson gives the customer a huge discount, further “proof” they are getting a good deal. But it is all a scam.

For anyone reading this story who has an appointment booked for an eye exam and is looking forward to buying a pair of glasses for the low advertised price, good luck!

If I may borrow a line from Star Trek, have your “shields up and phasers on stun.”

Google the name of the store, adding: “Fraud, bait and switch, misleading, high pressure sales, errors in the prescription.” Check Better Business Bureau ratings and customer complaints.

Sold a Pair of Glasses Instead of Getting an Ophthalmologist

When an optometrist is examining a patient and discovers a retinal detachment, or even a potential detachment, this is a true medical emergency, requiring a referral to an ophthalmologist immediately to save the patient’s sight.

Arnold’s optometrist noted under “assessment” potential retinal detachment.

But, instead of picking up the phone, calling an ophthalmologist, and getting an appointment for the patient, she did two things that make no sense from the several optometrists I ran these facts by:

(1) Under patient recommendations on Arnold’s chart, she listed what his new pair of glasses should have: “anti-reflective coating, UV coating, scratch resistance coating.”

(2) Apparently either she or someone at her direction was aware of the seriousness of Arnold’s situation but dropped the ball and never made that referral. This is evidenced by a completely blank referral slip that was in his chart.

Two weeks later they called him in to pick up his new glasses. “I almost lost my lunch,” he told me. The glasses made me sick as a dog. The store manager put them on a lens-o-meter and discovered that the prescription was horribly off!”

Two more weeks went by – another pair was made which he could not wear and Arnold finally went to an ophthalmologist, who “could not believe they treated me that way with my retinal detachment. I had surgery and made a good recovery,” he said.

The Takeaway from this Story

Can large optical retailers deliver a quality product at a fair price? Only you can reach that conclusion, but my advice is to do your research and ask why so many of these companies have horrible reviews.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.