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Have You Heard About the Latest Problem With the So-Called 'Obama Phone' Program?

Business

"The people were not signing those [applications]. We were, as the workers."

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[CORRECTION: This post originally reported 50 people were enrolled in the Lifeline program without their knowledge. This is not true. Approximately 50 had their signatures forged.]

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Approximately 50 people claim that their signatures were forged on applications for the federal government’s Lifeline phone program (i.e. the so-called “Obama phone”), according to a Scripps News report.

Contract agents for TerraCom and its affiliate, YourTel America Inc., told Scripps they forged signatures, made up addresses and held onto Social Security numbers and other sensitive personal information.

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TerraCom and its affiliate provide Lifeline services in 21 states.

“The people were not signing those [applications]. We were, as the workers,” said Reginald Strode, 35, a former agent for YourTel in the St. Louis area.

Another agent said his manager “double dipped,” meaning his manager submitted confidential applicant information to another Lifeline company to add to his commission.

Scripps said it could not verify these claims.

The Federal Communications Commission declined to comment on the allegations.

Lifeline carriers face up to $1.5 million in fines if contract agents break policy rules (including divulging applicants’ personal data), Scripps reported.

However, although these fines exist for rule breakers, it’s unclear what practices are being used to vet and monitor Lifeline contract agents.

Obviously, the “FCC needs to tighten up its program,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for The Project on Government Oversight.

The Lifeline program was started 1985 and expanded in 2005 to include wireless service.

The cost of the program was roughly $2.2 billion in 2012, up from $800 million in 2009, according to the congressional Energy & Commerce Committee.

TerraCom Inc. and YourTel America Inc. in 2012 raked in nearly $90 million from the federal program to "subsidize phone service for low-income families," the Washington Free Beacon noted.

Click here to read the full Scripps report.

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Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter

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