At least 50 people have had applications submitted in their names, without their knowledge for the Lifeline “Obama phone” government program, a Scripps News investigation finds.
TerraCom and its affiliate, YourTel America Inc., provide Lifeline service in 21 states, and contract agents there told Scripps they forged application signatures, manufactured addresses and retained legitimate applicants’ Social Security numbers and other sensitive personal information:
“The people were not signing those. We were, as the workers,” said Reginald Strode, 35, a former St. Louis-area contract sales agent for YourTel.
One former agent said he believes his boss “double dipped,” taking TerraCom applicants’ information and submitting it to another Lifeline company to collect extra commission. Scripps could not independently verify allegations.
The Federal Communications Commission, which declined comment for this article, has warned Lifeline carriers that they face fines of up to $1.5 million if sales representatives break program rules. It hasn’t specified how companies must vet and supervise agents.
The Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group in Washington, D.C., called for stricter controls across Lifeline and close scrutiny of TerraCom’s applications.
“The FCC needs to tighten up its program,” said Scott Amey, general counsel.
Launched in 1985, Lifeline expanded to wireless service in 2005. Its price tag rose from $800 million in 2009 to $2.2 billion last year, the congressional Energy & Commerce Committee reported this spring.
Last year, TerraCom Inc. and affiliate YourTel America Inc. together received nearly $90 million from the federal Lifeline program to subsidize phone service for low-income families, a Scripps analysis of federal filings shows.