Beware the Black Market for Hearing Aid Parts

By Lolly Wigall

I don’t shop on eBay much, but there are lots of people who do.  I have an account and over the years I have purchased flower seeds for my garden and sunscreens to cover patios, but that’s about it.  I just rarely check the website.  But after a recent experience, I have visited this website more.

thSeveral weeks ago a patient came in to pick up batteries.  We got chit-chatting as we often do, and he told me that he had purchased a new receiver for his hearing aid online.  “Hmm”, I thought.  So, I asked the  “dumb” question, “How much?”  You could have blown me over with a feather.  I was stunned.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was.  He was able to purchase a replacement part for his hearing aids for less than what I pay wholesale for the item.  Hmm…something doesn’t add up here.

I put my detective hat on and logged into eBay.  I did a search for a new receiver that he had purchased and there was not just one site, but a number of sites selling that replacement item.  I eliminated the sites that were international, but there were still a number of sites that were within our national borders.  The prices varied, but the common feature was it was lower than what I am able to purchase the item from the manufacturer.

Not Adding Up…

Could these dealers be getting “such a deal” from the manufacturer?  Am I getting snookered by the company and being overcharged?  Are the parts stolen?  Where are they getting them so cheaply?  Are the receivers used or reconditioned?

I had a couple of thoughts. Maybe I shouldn’t order the parts from the manufacturer anymore.  Perhaps I should purchase those parts cheaper online from an unknown source. But would the parts be available when I need them?  What about quantity? Would it still be cheaper by the time I paid shipping?   I had all these questions.

Then, I saw it.  The shipping was free on all of the sites. That seemed too good to be true.  How can that be? Everyone has to ship somehow; and to my knowledge, the post office, FedEx, UPS all charge for their services.th (11)

It just didn’t add up.  The parts themselves were about half the price of what I pay for them.  The shipping was free.  Where are these suppliers getting their parts?  Why is the shipping free?  Do they have a deal with the post office that I don’t know about?

So, I bit on the hook.  I dug out my credit card and ordered the part from a seller in another state.  I waited for my delivery.  The email said I would have the part shipped to my home within one week.

When I ordered the part, I could see the name of the eBay account owner.  I did not know the person.  The owner of the website was in another state. I still had my detective hat on, so I looked the name up on Facebook. I also checked LinkedIn.  I found the person.

The Online Storefront

I was really surprised by the number of receivers and wax guards that are for sale on eBay.  My favorite manufacturer used to send them to me at no charge. I am sure I am not the only practice who used to get them free.  But, clearly employees or maybe employers are selling the wax guards and receivers on eBay. If the practice is receiving them at no charge, they are making money by selling them. 

My guess is if an employee is doing this, they are probably using the boss’s postage for the free shipping. As a business owner, you might consider making a policy that you are the only one to use the postage meter.

This way you know where each package is being sent.  If a package is being sent across the country, you know it is not your customer.  Just taking the mail at the end of the day will not stop someone from putting postage on the package and then putting it in their purse or bag to drop in the mailbox on their way home.  It means instituting controls on the postage meter.

If you are a business owner, I would suggest you go onto eBay and search the site for wax guards, receivers and hearing aids that you sell.  eBay lists where the item is located so you can see if there are any accounts in your area.   However, you usually cannot see the account owner’s name on the website until you order the item.  If the item is being sold anywhere near your practice location, I would definitely order something from the site.

Somebody’s Paying for those FREE Items

You may think it is small potatoes to sell wax guards and receivers.  I called the manufacturer’s representative and talked to her about the situation. She was able to see how many wax guards had been sent to this place of business over the last year at no charge.

That one account alone had received 3200 packages of wax guards at no charge.  Selling those free wax guards for $5.00 each added up to $16,000 to the seller!

That was pure profit since it didn’t cost him/her anything.  The business owner lost money since the postage machine was being used to ship wax guards.

The manufacturer got “taken” and the owner of the business was “taken”. The manufacturer had paid to have the wax guards manufactured and packaged.  The hearing aid company paid for the shipping of the wax guards to the practice.

The manufacturer representative had sent the wax guards to a good customer as a courtesy. The owner of the practice had trusted the employee to run the front office and take care of supplies.

th (5)Wax guards are a small matter compared to the receivers on sale on eBay.  I have been told that many times when a hearing aid is sent in for return for credit or for a repair, the receivers are missing.  The manufacturer replaces the missing receiver on the aids sent in for repair.  And, the practice was never charged for the receiver if the aid was sent back for credit.

Some hearing aid manufacturers are now charging the practice if the receivers are not on the hearing aids when they are returned for credit or sent in for repair.

These “missing” receivers are probably being sold on eBay.  When a person orders a receiver from a seller on eBay, you do not know if the receiver is used, reconditioned, and just wiped off with alcohol, or new.

Most consumers do not know what an item costs wholesale.  But, their normal response might be that their audiologist is “overcharging” them.  That would be my response too.  It makes all honest practice owners look bad.


1 Comment

  1. I’m lucky enough to live in the UK.
    My adequate (if not state of the art) pretty coloured, Oticon aids aids and batteries are FREE!

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