BBB Calls Company's Tactics 'Deplorable' - WSMV News 4

BBB Calls Company's Tactics 'Deplorable'

Posted: Updated: April 27, 2009

The sick, poor and uninsured may be the most vulnerable, but they are the target population for a local company and its controversial sales tactics.



The Channel 4 I-Team has captured those tactics on hidden camera. The Better Business Bureau calls the findings "deplorable."


United Benefits of America said it serves the uninsured by selling them bundles of benefits, such as prescription discount cards and limited coverage insurance. Some employees said they thought they'd be helping the uninsured but ended up quitting because they were disgusted at the practices.


For Wayne Yancey, seven pills a day and three serious illnesses equal one major difficulty: affording health insurance.


"It's just about impossible to get health insurance," said Yancey.


Struggling to pay for coverage, Yancey was thrilled when, he said, he got a call from United Benefits of America, telling him he had been pre-approved for affordable, major medical insurance.


"I thought it was a done deal," Yancey said.


But hundreds of dollars and months of unreturned phone calls later, Yancey discovered the truth: He was never pre-approved, and the insurance he got was basically prescription discount cards that barely saved him any money.


"They don't care who they run over or who they hurt," Yancey said. "All they're interested in is getting money from you."


The Better Business Bureau gives UBA an F rating.


There are 46 registered complaints with the BBB, most regarding misleading sales practices.


Channel 4 I-Team sent its hidden camera into the heart of the operation. What was found were managers training sales representatives to mislead and scare customers.


"They buy now or they pretty much come down with cancer tomorrow," a manager said Jan. 13 on hidden camera.


"I think what you've found is probably one of the clearest examples of what's wrong in business," said Kathleen Calligan of the Better Business Bureau.


The pitch given to potential customers is called TAFT.


"In the TAFT pitch, I was told to tell them any f***ing thing," a former employee said


On hidden camera, a manager explained how to use TAFT to convince patients, many suffering from cancer and AIDS, of a deadline that doesn't exist.


"TAFT is tell them any f***ing thing," the manager said. "Tell them today's the last day of open enrollment. We've only got so many approvals to get. That's TAFT."


While the manager said he doesn't use TAFT to sell major medical insurance, he suggests that many other employees aren't as honest and do regularly pass off their product as full insurance.


"We can't let them take an hour. We can't let them take a day. They buy now, or they pretty much come down with cancer by tomorrow. This is a do-or-die kind of thing," another manager said.


In the midst of the Channel 4 I-Team's investigation, the state Department of Commerce and Insurance, accompanied by Metro police, raided UBA and took files from the company.


While the state would not comment on its investigation or this company, a state official did talk in general about what they look for when they get complaints about benefits and insurance companies.


"What is regulated is honesty," said John Morris, deputy commissioner of Department of Commerce and Insurance. "If high pressure tactics are used, and they're not based in fact, then we would absolutely prohibit that."


A third manager taught ways to keep customers from finding out complaints about the company, referring to complaints on Web sites such as and the BBB.


The BBB reports more than 3,000 people have called them with questions about UBA, and 46 have filed complaints, ranging from inappropriate behavior from customer service representatives to sales people misrepresenting services.


Former UBA employees said managers told them never to use the company's full name.


"We are United Benefits, not United Benefits of America," said a manager.


Former employees said they were instructed to avoid using the company's full name so customers would have a hard time finding complaints online.


"We were told if they Googled 'United Benefits of America,' that your sale was dead. There was no way anyone would do business if they Googled 'United Benefits of America.'"


"Some of it's been accurate," a manager said about what's reported on consumer Web sites. "I won't lie. I mean, some of it's accurate. We've done customers wrong from time to time."


Even though UBA made an estimated $24 million in 2007, that manager said a high percentage of customers quickly change their mind.


"We lose about 30 percent of our business in the first 30 days," he said.


After the CEO of UBA didn't return repeated calls for comment, Channel 4 went to the company.


"I actually still would like to speak with him," said I-Team reporter Jeremy Finley.


"He's not available right now," a secretary said. "We ask that you kindly leave the premises."


A lawyer representing the company later said UBA had no comment, saying only if there are consumer complaints, to forward them on to UBA.


The company lost Wayne Yancey's business, especially when he said his calls were never returned from his UBA salesman when he got the discount cards instead of traditional insurance.


Channel 4 showed Yancey the undercover video.


"If I could reach into that screen, and grab his little chicken neck, I would squeeze it until something popped," Yancey said.


"To mislead at the point of sale, that is, I think, the most deplorable of all," said Calligan.


Of the 46 complaints filed with the BBB, the company resolved 33 of them. But because of the amount of complaints and so many unresolved, the BBB still gives the company an F rating.


The CEO spoke to the Nashville Business Journal last year and said he wants to add value to people's lives.


"We act directly to correct the problem and take complaints very seriously," said UBA CEO Tim Thomas to the Nashville Business Journal in August.

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