We have warned you over and over and over — if free government cell phone recipients don’t help expose fraud and abuse in the program, it may be killed or cut back so significantly that your cell phone may be the next one to be eliminated.
An undercover investigation by CBS4-TV in Denver reports that the program designed for “the poor and needy in Denver appears to be riddled with waste, fraud and abuse…” This is the kind of report that angers politicians and regulators and should anger even those who support the program and those who benefit from the program. We know it angers us.
Lifeline Assistance, the official name of the program more commonly known as the free government cell phone program or more colloquially as Obamaphones, now costs $2 billion per year and has distributed more than 13 million phones across the country. CBS4 said, “In Colorado, the program handed out more than 117,000 free cellphone plans in the first half of this year, or about 20,000 cellphones every month.”
To qualify, you must have a household income of no more than 150% of federal poverty guidelines or receive assistance from another government program such as food stamps, Medicaid, or Section 8 housing aid. But those guidelines are often ignored by corrupt cell phone vendors and unethical recipients.
Here’s how CBS4 in Denver reported its uncover investigation:
But on multiple trips to Colfax Avenue and Broadway in Denver, where multiple distributors set up their tents to hand out free cellphones, a CBS4 producer and reporter found the phone agents willing to circumvent strict government rules designed to ensure that only the truly needy get the free phones. The vendors receive massive government subsidies to hand out the phones and the accompanying monthly plans.
“Want to sign up for a free phone?” an agent representing Total Call mobile asked a CBS4 producer. The representative then asked if the undercover producer had a food stamp card, a Medicaid card or any other evidence that he qualified for a phone.
“No,” replied the CBS4 employee. But one of the cellphone agents then ordered his colleague to “push it through,” by using someone else’s food stamp card to provide eligibility for the CBS4 employee.
“Did you just use that guy’s food stamp card for me?” questioned the CBS4 employee.
“Yeah,” responded the Total Call representative. “It’s verification that you are on some kind of assistance program. It’s to get you through.”
He promptly gave the CBS4 worker a free phone. The Total Call agent said he received $3 for every phone he is able to give away.
Obviously, using someone else’s food stamp card to get a free government cell phone is illegal, unethical and immoral. But some customers and vendors are willing to overlook almost anything — fines, embarrassment, and job loss — in order to get something for nothing. Nevertheless, Lifeline Assistance providers appear quite willing to not only sign up those who are clearly ineligible, but also help them get around the rules.
One man told CBS4 he wanted a free cellphone but did not have a food stamp card and did not qualify. He showed CBS4 his current smartphone that he said he was paying $57 a month for. But he explained that he went across town, got a food stamp card anyway, then returned to Civic Center with a food stamp card that has no money on it, but was still able to use it to qualify for an “Obamaphone.”
“Completely free. I didn’t pay a dollar, not a dime, not a nickel,” said the man. “That’s what everybody calls them in the ‘hood, Obamaphone,” laughed the man.
Of course, the Federal Communications Commission has moved to eliminate fraud, waste and abuse in the program. Since 2012 it has fined free government cell phone companies more than $95 million. The FCC claims its stricter regulations have slashed fraud, waste and abuse by more than $2 billion. But it seems clear that plenty of problems still remain and need to be addressed immediately if this program is to survive.
So once again we urge our readers to report any abuse of which you become aware. If you know someone who has an Obamaphone when they really don’t qualify, report them to the FCC. If you know someone who has more than one free government cell phone, report them to the FCC. If you see a street vendor who’s willing to break the rules, report them to the FCC.
If you don’t, the politicians in Washington, DC will come down on Lifeline Assistance like the proverbial ton of bricks. If you don’t, budgets will be slashed, regulations will be tightened, and in the end those who really need the program will be the ones who are hurt the most. If you don’t, your free government cell phone may be the next one that’s taken away.
So do your part. Do whatever you can to protect this valuable program from fraud, waste and abuse. To quote the Department of Homeland Security, “If you see something, say something.” To report fraud or abuse, please go to our page, “How to Report Lifeline Fraud, Abuse and Waste.”