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Woman Pays Web Site for Federal Form That's Free Elsewhere

Posted June 26, 2007

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— These days, the first place most of us look when we need information is the Internet.

As a Wake County woman found out, however, you have to be careful about where you look, or it could cost you.

If you get married, divorced, change your name or lose your Social Security card, you'll have to get a new one. The process is easy and free, although Donna Moats found out that too late.

What you should do is go the Social Security Administration's Web site, download a free form, fill it out and take it to a local administration office.

Moats thought she could get the replacement card online.

She went to a Web site called SocialSecuritycard.net. The site says it's run by the "Veteran Information Alliance" and claims to "help people obtain their Social Security card." The site calls official government processes a "tremendous burden" and offers to "do the work for you” for $14.99.

“Most government things cost money, so I didn't think there was any way it was a scam,” Moats said.

So, Moats paid the fee and downloaded the form, which is the same one the government will provide free.

She thought that once she filled it out, she said, socialsecuritycard.net would take care of getting the card. When she e-mailed about what to do next, the company responded with "contact your local Social Security office." When she went there, she found new cards are free.

“I told the lady at the office I was really upset for paying $14.99, and she said, ‘Hon, you've just been scammed.’”

Moat e-mailed the Web site asking for a refund. "Jerry" wrote back saying they "do not offer refunds."

“I mean, I just thought it was totally illegal at the time,” Moats said.

It's not, though. Companies can legally charge you to provide government forms. However, they cannot process the forms.
Socialsecuritycard.net appears to walk a fine line. However, the site says the $14.99 is not for the form, but for "services rendered," including "use of this Web site" and "bandwith."

Moats just wants to get the word out so this company and others like it won't make more money from people like her.

“It's not like it's gonna break me,” she said. “It's just that he gave me something I found out was free.”

The site has a disclaimer that says the forms are free. Moats says it wasn't on the home page of the site until she pointed that out to the operator.

The company did not respond to our inquiries. Many sites offer different kinds of government forms and posters that you can often get for free. The best way to avoid it is to go to Web sites that end in “dot-gov” rather than “dot-com” or “dot-net.”

12 Comments

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  • jlr31933 Jun 28, 2007

    As said repeatedly below, this is not a scam. Misleading probably but not a scam. She should take this as a lesson learned: do more research before you throw money away.

  • Refiman2 Jun 27, 2007

    doesn't everyone know these forms are free, same as the companies that sell info about government auctions, that info is free too. just have to know who to ask.

  • LRB Jun 27, 2007

    I had to change my name on my Soc Sec card last year. Getting the form was not a problem. I easily found it on the website. The hard part is going to the SSA and waiting. That takes forever.

  • Tax Man Jun 27, 2007

    I found the site socialsecuritycard.net that said for $14.99 they would give me the proper forms and support to submit quickly and easily to replace my lost social security card. Basically, they said they would 'do the work for me!' Instead, once I paid, all I got was the application form, which it turns out you can get just as easily for free from the Social Security Administration. There was no customer support or contact even though I wrote emails to their supplied email address, until I threatened with a BBB report if they did not respond within one hour. Here is the response: “On Dec 6, 2006, at 2:45 PM, Social Security Card wrote: Is the one hour up?I don't care about your threats. Complain to anyone you like. Report it to anyone you like.You can mail the form in. you do not need to go in. As for refunds, I am sorry but we do not offer refunds. That is stated in our terms of service which you agreed to before authorizing us to charge your credit card. Regards, Jerry” Nan Sea

  • manners Jun 27, 2007

    The Social Security Administration website is actually fairly user-friendly. Check it out -- lots of useful info about SocSec and retirement.

  • Steve Crisp Jun 27, 2007

    This is not a scam. This is good, old American entrepeneurship. They provided a service, one that probably saved her a bunch of time trying to drill into a government web site and figure out just what form she needed in the first place.

    Keep in mind folks, that if government web sites were constructed with the least bit of rationality in the first place, no one would even think about offering a service such as this one. And if you think that is not so, go try finding out something on even the Raleigh site and see how long it takes you to discover it. Try "set back requirements for R4 zoning" just off the top of my head. That would be a fairly common search for someone wanting to build a shed.

  • NCSpeedDiva Jun 27, 2007

    Can't say I feel sorry for anyone who doesn't do some research.

  • Tax Man Jun 26, 2007

    Report these websites to: www.scam.com so the rest of the world knows about them.

  • Tax Man Jun 26, 2007

    Most all government websites offer free services and forms - the ones that are private are a bunch of crooks and need to be taken down. Bad, evil people.

  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Jun 26, 2007

    Ladyblue, Moats can only blame herself for not checking the Social Security office first. A phone call was the only thing needed to the office for information. Plus, this is not true Internet fraud ... the site offered a form that she was looking for and she paid for the form, which she received. The site was perceived deceptive since they took advantage of people who do not check (or is not knowledgeable), but it is not fraud in the legal sense of the word. Unethical and immoral, yes.

    However, Moats has another problem that she may not be aware of, which is potential identity theft. Remember, she gave her name, address, phone number, credit card number, etc etc in order to receive the form. I recommend her to monitor her accounts and do a security freeze.

    I always check the web site's Privacy and other policies before I do any business with the entity. Info is at the NCDOJ web site under Consumer Protection (www.ncdoj.gov)

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