INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana consumer protection watchdogs are urging caution as suspicious bills for flu shots begin arriving in mailboxes throughout the country.
"I think it is sick and it’s worse than highway robbery really. It’s sneaky," said Phyllis Kidd, 80 of North Salem.
One full year after receiving her flu shot at the Brownsburg Wal-Mart, Kidd and others have begun receiving bills from the contractor who administered the flu shots, demanding payment for balances that the patients say they do not owe.
"It’s a scam," Kidd said.
The shots were provided at Wal-Mart stores throughout the country from 2009 to 2012 by an Arizona firm called Mollen Immunization Clinics.
Kidd and others who have received the bills complain that they were promised they would not have to pay a dime since insurance would cover the costs of their flu shots.
Patients have also reported that the bills are suspicious because they include numerous incorrect entries for their personal information.
The Better Business Bureau in the city where Mollen Immunization Clinics are based has gotten complaints about the billing practices, and similar reports have been showing up on other consumer watchdog websites such as Rip Off Report.
Kidd provided the Call 6 Investigators a copy of her bill, which stated she owes $25 because of a problem in processing credit cards on the day of her shot. Yet Kidd said she never used a credit card that day.
"I think that letter is convincing enough that I think it would take everybody up that I owe it," she said.
Kidd's bill also lists her insurance provider as a company she’s never heard of, and it spells out that a $5 payment was received from her on the day of her shot, which she said is also untrue.
Mollen Immunizations Clinics did not respond to repeated requests for comment from the Call 6 Investigators by phone and by email.
The Indiana Attorney General’s office has received one complaint about the billing practices of Mollen Immunization Clinics, but Deputy Director of Consumer Protection Terry Tolliver said he is hoping to hear from others who have received the bills.
"You can imagine when a bill is low enough and it sounds like a company that I’ve dealt with before, maybe I do owe this money and I’ll just pay it rather than investigate and learn that it is a scam," he said.
“If a bill just comes out of the blue, is it possible that it’s a mistake? Yes, but that’s something that’s easily remedied just by following up and answering those questions,” he said. “Don’t be embarrassed because you didn’t do anything wrong.”
Tolliver said senior citizens are sometimes sent bills for amounts they don’t owe, in hopes they’ll just pay up to avoid any further trouble.
"I think they target seniors for the fact that they think they don’t have a very good memory and they won’t remember things," Kidd said.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment about the company’s former flu shot provider.
Online records at the Better Business Bureau list Mollen Immunization Clinic as being out of business and no longer in good standing with the BBB, and yet the company’s phone lines and websites remain in operation.
Kidd and some of the other patients who have posted comments on consumer message boards suggested the company may be cashing in on people it provided flu shots to in the past, hoping that even a fraction of the people who receive bills will simply go ahead and pay them.
Tolliver urged people to research the bills before sending in payments.
"That’s what our recommendation would be for anybody who gets one of these: If you don’t know what it is and you’ve tried to resolve it, or even if you have resolved it and you want somebody to look into it, file a complaint with our office," he said.