CONSUMERISM: Fear of Being Home Alone

Fear of Being Home Alone

It's the first great catchphrase of the '90s: "I've fallen and I can't get up!" The poorly acted but plaintive cry can be heard in ads for Lifecall, one of many personal emergency-response systems that summon medical help at the press of a button. Now that as many as 350,000 of the systems have been sold, they are beginning to draw fire from consumer-advocacy groups that question the marketing of the high-tech hailers and sometimes even the need for them.

The State of Maryland sued a seller of medical-alert units (price: $1,295 each) that became useless junk when the firm failed...

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