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BBB Investigating Company Over Social Security Card Forms

What the company is charging money for and what they're doing with the personal information, is raising many questions by the BBB.
MONROE -- How would you feel if your personal information ended up in the unknown?

For West Monroe resident and KTVE employee Alyson Futch, she's just searching for a peace of mind.

In a rush, she needed a social security card for her son's application for a drivers license.

"I work all the time, and just didn't have all day to go sit at the social security office and desperately needed a card for my son," she said.

After typing in "Social Security Card" she clicked on the first hit at the time --- www.easy-file.us.

"To save time, I went online and just Googled it, just trying to find a replacement card. This was the first site that pulled up, it looked official," she said.

She paid about $50 dollars for the service that claims to "simplify the process" in getting a card. She paid extra for "express service."

Futch was surprised to see what popped up on her screen after paying -- a simple social security administration form that was filled out with her information she already typed in.

"It actually is the official form, but it's the form that I could have gotten for free at the social security office," Futch said.

Futch says she expected more for her money, especially since the company -- after she paid -- told her she had deal with the social security office anyway.

"I would have needed to go to the social security office and provide documentation. That was not made aware to me by the site," she said, adding that one of the forms they gave her suggested she send or hand in her documents to the SSA office in Ruston -- the very thing was hoping to bypass through the service to save time. "I'm an extremely busy person, and I am so trusting. I felt like a fool."

All documents must be either originals or certified copies by the issuing agency. The office cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. Futch said she was aware of this, but thought she could provide this through the company. She wonders why she needed to pay them the $60.

She was advised by the Social Security Office in Ruston that she should contact the Better Business Bureau. She canceled her bank card just in case.
 
What the company is charging money for and what they're doing with the personal information, is raising many questions by the BBB.

The Monroe Better Business Bureau office has been getting complaints about the company from across the country since January. Complaint forms started coming in from places like New York, Illinois, Idaho, Oregon, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Arizona. Futch is their first local complaint.

"We have made an effort to contact them about the nature and pattern of the complaints," said Jo Ann Deal, CEO and president of the BBB of Northeast Louisiana. "The mission of the BBB is promoting the highest ethical relationship between businesses and the public."

Deal said refunds have been made to unsatisfied customers. 

"They have made a good faith effort to respond to every complaint," she said.

But the question that has Futch and others worried is -- what's happening to all that personal information given to Easy File?

"They have my social security [number], my maiden name, they asked for all that information, and now they have that," said Futch. She said because they would charge so much for essentially giving her a free form, it makes her worry what they would do with her information.

The website provides a Privacy Policy; you can read it by clicking here.

"It is not illegal for them to assist, but you need to be worried and concerned that your information is safe guarded once you've shared it," said Deal. "It is the concern about the information and how it will be used that we are most worried about."

And if you can get the form for free, what are people being charged for?

We tried to find out at their listed offices in Monroe. The one employee we spoke to there would not go on camera or answer our questions. He referred us to his boss, who is on a business trip to Miami. According to the Louisiana Secretary of State website, the owner of Easy file -- or as it's listed, Document Filing Assistance, LLC -- is Orkan Arat.

The employee did point out their disclaimer on their website, which states:

Important Note: Most Americans will need to replace, update or change their Social Security cards at some time in their lives. While the Social Security Administration allows you to do this at no charge, Easy-File is a paid service which aims to simplify the process by providing you with detailed instructions on how to complete and where to submit the necessary government forms. Easy-File is not affiliated with the SSA.

"This company does post on their website that they are not a government agency," said Deal. "If you choose to do business with a document filing assistance company, you are opting to give up your right to privacy."

Futch said she noticed the disclaimer, but thought her money was doing something more.

"The whole entire process, I felt safe and secure, until the end and then it started throwing up red flags," she said, noting the website does has a SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Certificate by GeoTrust.

A communications representative with the Social Security Administration regional office in Dallas said they see companies like this often. The office issued us this statement:

The Social Security Administration does not charge for a Social Security card. Some private companies, not affiliated with Social Security or any other government agency, charge fees for this service. However, these companies offer no advantage and individuals will have to provide documents directly to Social Security. Be cautious about giving your private information, especially your Social Security number, to anyone.

The representative added, when visiting any federal government website, make sure it ends in ".gov."

"Do not fall under the same pitfall, you do not have to pay to get a social security card," said Deal. "Most public documents are freely given from any of the governmental offices, and while sometimes you have to wait, this is the most inconvenience you'll have, is the waiting time."

Deal said perhaps the ".us" domain may be confusing for some to think it's a government website, despite the disclaimer.

"Most individuals who are using this are using this company, do think they are on a government website," she said. "The consumers that have filed complaints, were confused and conflicted about the forms they were submitted because the forms actually say Social Security Administration."

An employee told us they are in the process of changing their domain from ".us" to ".org" and that the former domain is the old website.

Since pursuing this story, it was noticed that Easy File has also removed their website from the top hit on Google.

"Statistics show us that most individuals are going to select something from page one or two of Google," said Deal.

The Better Business Bureau urges everyone to do their research before giving out information.

"Make sure you are safeguarding yourself at all times, do not get in a hurry, plan ahead," Deal said. "Make sure you are researching everything about identity theft. If you think your identity is threatened in any way, go ahead and put an alert on your SSN with the Social Security Administration and the major credit bureaus. We encourage you to think carefully and research the companies you use if you choose to give information."

Deal said the Internet does not have the sanctions that a regular transaction would have, therefore, there is little the government can do.

"It behooves everyone to safeguard themselves on the Internet," she said.

Futch said perhaps some of these type of companies are still in the up and up, but said she wanted to be safe than sorry. Deal said businesses can look to resources for information on how to properly word their privacy policy to reassure customers.

"Companies should know the FTC and BBB has tips on their website on what their policy should be safeguard information," Deal said. "If this is an area where you business does not have the proper postage on your website, please be thorough and complete about how consumer information is protected once its obtained for a business procedure."

Futch says she's learned a lot through this experience. She's trying to get her money back.

"Just because a site pulls up first does not mean its the official site," she said. "If there's anyone out there that this has happened to, please contact the BBB and let them know."

To visit the Social Security Administration website, click here.

To visit the Monroe Better Business Bureau website, click here.

If you ever have reason to believe your Social Security Number has been misused or that you are the victim of identity theft, you can obtain information to help resolve problems and file a complaint with the FTC by contacting the FTC:

Internet: Complete the FTC’s online “Complaint Input Form” at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov

By phone: Toll-free 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY 1-866-653-4261
 
By mail: Federal Trade Commission Consumer Response Center 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW Washington, DC 20580
 

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