At least 50 TerraCom Lifeline applications included forged signatures, according to a new investigative report by the Scripps National Investigative Team.
I interviewed Reginald Strode, a former TerraCom employee who claims he was trained to forge signatures and enter false addresses to push through Lifeline phone applications.
“Part of the problem is that we were taught go, go, go, go, go, as many clients — like 25 to 45 people a day,” Strode tells me, explaining he got $3 in commission for each subsidized cell phone he distributed. “You gotta get that money. . . . Basically, we were rushing through the process. That’s another reason I believe we were never taught to have the client fill out that information.”
Lifeline applicants are also supposed to certify, under penalty of perjury, that all the information they provided was true. But Strode says he “was the one clicking all the information. The client was not. And we were not even reading off the information to the client at all. We were just clicking and going.”
Perhaps that explains why, earlier this summer, I was able to obtain three Lifeline phones (one from SafeLink, two from Assurance) without being eligible, and without ever lying to the street vendors soliciting applications. I never had to sign an application or vouch for the accuracy of my information, either.
If such practices are common among the Lifeline phone companies’ commissioned workers, it would help clarify why a recent audit discovered that 42 percent of Obamaphone beneficiaries — about 6 million people — hadn’t demonstrated eligibility. The Lifeline program cost $2.189 billion in 2012, so that amount of fraud comes at a high cost. TerraCom alone made $52.3 million off the program last year.
Part One of the Scripps National Investigative Team’s excellent report aired last night. You can watch it here:
And Part Two, which airs tonight, examines how some of TerraCom’s Lifeline applications led back to abandoned buildings and homeless shelters.