5 On Your Side

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

Posted June 26, 2007 5:56 p.m. EDT
Updated June 26, 2007 7:36 p.m. EDT

— 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.”