If you’re about to get a hearing aid, be wary: Because of the “scientific” nature of the purchase, consumers are often vulnerable to misinformation and bad deals.

An AARP study conducted in Florida revealed many shoddy sales practices. AARP had consumer testers make 169 visits to 23 different hearing-aid dispensers. The study revealed that half of the dispensers failed to follow the state’s minimum hearing evaluation standards before recommending a hearing aid. Of the consumer testers who had not visited a physician prior to their appointment, only 14 percent were advised that it was in their best interest to see a physician before purchasing an aid, despite the federal law requiring that they be so advised. In many instances, sellers recommended hearing aids for persons who did not need them; some dispensers recommended aids to as many as 90 percent of the consumer testers.

The AARP Florida study also found many instances of deceptive sales statements. The most common was claiming that a hearing aid would help slow down hearing loss or ear damage. This is completely misleading, since hearing aids can only make you hear better and have no impact on your natural hearing capacity.

In our own surveys, hearing-aid buyers for the most part rated sellers favorably. But the ratings and comments we received from customers of some establishments echoed the problems cited in the AARP study.

To help you get advice you can trust, our Ratings Tables show how area hearing centers were rated by local consumers (primarily Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers). We asked consumers to rate hearing-aid dispensers “inferior,” “adequate,” or “superior” on questions such as “advice on choice and use of products,” “reliability (standing behind products and delivering on time),” and “overall quality.” Our Ratings Tables report, for businesses that received at least 10 ratings, the percent of each company’s surveyed customers who rated it “superior” on each question. Click here for more information on our customer survey and other methods.

You can make your own judgments about the quality of advice provided by staff of various companies. Do they seem interested in you? Do they ask detailed questions about problems your hearing causes and when you would most benefit from hearing aids? Do they thoroughly explain the testing process and their diagnosis? Do they present several options? Do they provide easy-to-understand explanations for any recommendations they make? Are important choices, such as buying one aid versus two, discussed in ways you can understand?

Check dispensers’ training and competence. Be sure they have credentials: a Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) and/or a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology (CCC-A), or are a Fellow of the American Academy of Audiology (FAAA). If not, look for other evidence of training and several years of experience.

Check the facilities. The room in which a hearing test is administered needs to be quiet. Ask whether the center uses a sound-treated room (good) or professionally installed soundbooth (better).

Shop around. Our mystery shoppers got price quotes from area sellers for 12 different hearing aids, and found tremendous company-to-company price variation. (See our section "How to Save Money on Hearing Aids" for more information.)