Jennifer M. Joyce
& The Circuit Att orney’s Office
To Pursue Justice for All Citizens Within the Highest
Standards of Ethical Behavior and Professionalism
Fraud Assistance Hotline:
Where Do I Get a Free “Government” Cell Phone?
Imagine you were out in your neighborhood when someone approached you and offered you a free cell phone. Who wouldn’t want a free phone? But wait, they’re giving away phones from an unmarked car and they ask you to lie about your income.
The Fraud Prevention Taskforce was recently alerted that a similar situation is occurring in St. Louis; people are soliciting citizens to help them get free cell phones from the “government.” A program called Lifeline does exist to give eligible people free phones, but not everyone promising a free phone is part of the program. Some “free phone” promises are a scam.
In order to qualify for a Lifeline phone, you must meet strict income guidelines or have a qualifying disability. An individual earning less than $14,944 a year or a family of four earning less than $31,118 may be eligible.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees the Lifeline program, which is funded by the Universal Service Fund fee levied on our monthly phone bills. Lifeline permits eligible Missouri residents up to $13.50 a month toward a cell phone or wired phone. Lifeline allows only one phone per household. The program paid $17 million last year to Missouri residents and $1.6 billion nationwide.
There have been reports of fraud within the program, so be extremely cautious if a person wants to help you get a free government cell phone. Walk away if they want to charge you a fee for this service, suggest you lie about your income or disability, refer you to a specific carrier, or are working from a private residence or car. Many private telephone companies participate in Lifeline but their charges, available phones, minutes allowed and rates may vary greatly, so it is wise to check with several carriers to see which of them best suits your needs. Research the company’s reputation before signing any contracts.
The United Service Administrative Company runs Lineline for the FCC. For more information go to their website, http://www.usac.org/, and search “Lineline.” The FCC’s website also has useful information at http://www.fcc.gov/lifeline.