Oklahoma Congressman Attempts To End Subsidized Cell Phone Fraud
TULSA, Oklahoma - Six Investigates is tracking more progress in the wake of its reports on government subsidized cell phone fraud.
Lifeline is a billion dollar program we all pay for through a fee on our phone bills.
An Oklahoma congressman says he's made some progress on Capitol Hill, pushing for money-saving changes in the program.
"These free phones, we see them all over the place," said Congressman James Lankford.
He says he's been working behind the scenes in Washington D.C. to get something done about the Lifeline problem in Oklahoma.
Companies give away free cell phones in roadside stands and sign people up for cell phone service, mostly paid for by the feds. Cell phone companies are making hundreds of millions of dollars off Oklahomans and the government.
Our state has the largest number of Lifeline subscribers in the country - more 500,000 - and is home to much of the fraud that's running rampant within the program.
"What we have tried to do behind the scenes is multiple things," Lankford said, "we can talk about the legislation, but legislation is just not moving right now. So our alternatives are just to gripe about it or try to do something about it. I've decided to do something about it."
Lankford's been working with the Federal Communications Commission, which runs the program, to create new ways to stop fraud.
The FCC has already reformed the program twice, but our investigations proved those changes didn't work.
For example, one man was able to collect two duffel bags full of phones, post-reforms, when he was only allowed one phone.
The FCC has always claimed a database in development would stop fraud by stopping people from receiving multiple phones. Lankford claims he helped make that database a reality: "Our tack was we're going to just bug them until we get this done."
This month, the FCC will start entering subscriber information into the new database and, by February, Lankford says we'll start to see savings.
"Initially that's in the millions of dollars of savings right off the bat to be able to cancel those phones out," Lankford said.
He also wants the FCC to make cell phone companies prove their "tribal" subscribers are really members of a Native American tribe. That would close a tribal loophole that's been a cash cow for phone companies, paying them an extra $25 per month per phone.
And finally, Congressman Lankford says he's pushing for more basic oversight: making sure people who don't qualify for a government-subsidized cell phone don't get them.
Six Investigates will continue to check in and see how Congressman Lankford delivers on those goals.