New York-Based Internet Entrepreneur Agrees to Pay $100,000 CMP and Discontinue Use of URL
A New York-based Internet entrepreneur agreed to pay a CMP and discontinue use of the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) SocialSecurity.com to settle OIG’s claim that the URL violated Section 1140 of the Social Security Act. The entrepreneur voluntarily ceased the use of the URL’s website without admitting that a Section 1140 violation occurred, agreed to comply with section 1140, discontinued the use of the URL, and paid a $100,000 penalty.
Maryland-Based Non-profit Organization Agrees to Pay $50,000 CMP
Civic Council, Inc., of Frederick, Maryland, d/b/a Benefit Security Coalition and Council of Seniors (Civic Council), agreed to pay a civil monetary penalty to settle OIG’s claim that the company violated Section 1140 by mailing solicitations containing references to SSA and discussing Social Security-related issues in a misleading manner. Civic Council, without admitting that it violated the Act, cooperated fully with OIG, agreed to comply with Section 1140 in the future, and agreed to pay a $50,000 penalty.
Missouri Companies Agree to Pay $35,000 and $10,000 CMPs for Lead Card Mailings
Haberstroh Insurance Agency, Inc., d/b/a National Reply Center (Haberstroh) and Stolze Printing Company, Inc. (Stolze), both of Bridgeton, Missouri, agreed to pay CMPs to settle OIG’s claim that the companies violated Section 1140. Stolze printed and mailed on behalf of its client, Haberstroh, several insurance-related solicitations (commonly referred to as “lead card mailings” or simply “lead mailings”) containing references to Social Security on the outside of the envelopes in a manner that OIG asserted violate Section 1140. Without admitting violations of law, both companies cooperated with OIG, agreed to comply with Section 1140 in the future, and agreed to pay penalties of $35,000 and $10,000, respectively.
Company Pays CMP to Settle Insurance-Related Lead Card Mailing Claim
Kramer Direct, LLC (Kramer) agreed to pay a CMP of $65,000 to settle our claim that the company violated Section 1140 by printing and mailing solicitations containing references to Social Security on the outside of the solicitations in a manner that conveyed a false impression of a connection with SSA. Without admitting that it violated Section 1140, Kramer fully cooperated with our Section 1140 inquiry.
Online Marketer Pays CMP to Settle Facebook Advertisement Claim
League Nation, LLC (doing business as AutoQuoteTips.com), agreed to pay a CMP of $20,000 to settle our claim that the company violated Section 1140 by disseminating Facebook solicitations displaying an image of a Social Security card in a manner that conveyed the false impression that the solicitations were endorsed or authorized by SSA, or that its owners have some connection with or authorization from SSA. League Nation fully cooperated with the OIG’s inquiry into this matter. While the Company denies the allegations, the settlement agreement assures voluntary compliance with Section 1140.
Company Pays CMP to Settle URL and Website Claim
Accucom Corporation (Accucom) (doing business as CIS Nationwide) agreed to pay a CMP of $7,500 to settle our claim that the company violated Section 1140. OIG asserted that Accucom violated the Act through the use of the URL SSNRecords.org and the website’s use of an emblem containing the words “Social Security Records,” an image of government-columned building, and the U.S. Flag in a manner that conveyed a false impression of a connection with SSA. Accucom fully cooperated with OCIG. Without admitting that it violated Section 1140, the company discontinued its use of the domain name SSNRecords.org, voluntarily shut down the related website, and agreed to comply with Section 1140 for any future website operations.
Six Companies Discontinue Distribution of Social Security-Related Apps
At the request of OCIG, six separate App marketers agreed to pull Apps that OIG asserted were marketed in a manner that conveyed a false impression of a connection with SSA, in violation of Section 1140, due to the use of images of SSA’s official emblem, Social Security cards, SSA publications, and SSA-protected words. Four of the Apps were offered on Google, Inc.’s Google Play store, while the remaining two were offered on Apple, Inc.’s Apple Store.
Virginia Company Agreed to Pay CMP to Settle Website Claim
Names for Sale, LLC (doing business as SocialSecurityAdministration.org), of Richmond, Virginia, agreed to pay a CMP of $35,000 to settle our claim that the company violated Section 1140. The company used the domain name for its website to generate leads for its sponsored listings and other companies offering Social Security-related services. The domain name SocialSecurityAdministration. org and the related website contained the header banner “Social Security Administration” and images of the U.S. Capitol Building, the Statue of Liberty, and the U.S. flag to convey the false impression of a connection with SSA. Without admitting that it violated Section 1140, Names for Sale, LLC voluntarily shut down the website and agreed to pay a CMP, discontinue its use of the domain name SocialSecurityAdministration.org, and comply with Section 1140 for future website operations.
New York Company Agrees to Pay CMP to Settle Alleged Violation
Site Central, LLC (doing business as GovDatalink.org), of New York City, agreed to pay a $5,000 CMP to settle our claim that the company violated Section 1140. Site Central used the display domain name SSN.GovDatalink.org and destination website domain name govdatalink.org/SSN-Records for its website offering public records searches. Both domain names’ use of an official-looking eagle emblem, the header banner “Gov DATALINK,” and the bolded caption “Instant Access to SSN Records” conveyed the false impression of a connection with SSA. Without admitting that it violated Section 1140, Site Central voluntarily redesigned its website and agreed to pay a CMP and discontinue using both domain names.
Two Related Texas Companies Agree to Pay CMP to Settle Website Claim
The common owners of Ardykay, Inc. (doing business as SocialSecurityandDisability.com) and Four Seasons Marketing (doing business as SocialSecurityGovBenefits.com), located in Frisco, Texas, agreed to pay a $12,000 CMP to settle our claim that their companies violated Section 1140. Ardykay’s use of the header phrase “Www Ssi Gov” in search engine advertisements placed with Yahoo and Microsoft/Bing promoting one of its websites conveyed the false impression of a connection with SSA. In addition, Four Seasons Marketing’s use of the domain name SocialSecurityGovBenefits.com and the related website’s use of images of U.S. flags, an American bald eagle, the U.S. Capitol Building, and the header banner “Social Security Government Benefits,” also conveyed the false impression of a connection with SSA.
Without admitting that they violated Section 1140, the common owners of the two companies agreed to pay a CMP, discontinue using the violative header in advertising, cease using the domain name SocialSecurityGovBenefits.com (and 16 other domain names), and either shut down or redesign SocialSecurityandDisability.com to comply with Section 1140.
Missouri Company Agrees to Pay CMP to Settle Alleged Violation
Hermeris, Inc. doing business as SimpleFilings. com of Kansas City, Missouri, agreed to pay a civil monetary penalty of $82,000 to settle the OIG’s claim that the company violated Section 1140. SimpleFilings.com used the domain names gov-tax.net/ssn-card and simplefilings.gov-tax.net/ssn-card to direct users to its SimpleFilings.com website, a self-described “Social Security card application preparation service.”
The OIG received complaints from consumers, who asserted that these domain names conveyed the false impression that SimpleFilings.com had some connection with SSA.
Without admitting that it violated Section 1140, SimpleFilings.com agreed to pay a civil monetary penalty and discontinue use of the offending domain names; and voluntarily made changes to its website to clarify its services.
Illinois Company Agrees to Pay CMP to Settle Alleged Violation of the Act
Juice Advertising, LLC,doing business as Social-Security-Expert.com, of Chicago, Illinois agreed to pay a civil monetary penalty after the OIG asserted that Social- Security-Expert.com placed search engine advertisements for its website with the Microsoft Corporation (via its Bing and Yahoo! search engines) using the phrases “Ssa.gov” and “Socialsecurity.gov” (actual domain names used by the Social Security Administration) in order to direct customer traffic to its site.
Without admitting that it violated Section 1140, Juice Advertising, in addition to agreeing to pay a civil monetary penalty, agreed to comply fully with Section 1140 of the Act and permanently cease and desist from using the phrases “Ssa.gov” and “Socialsecurity.gov” in any future advertisements.
Utah Company Agrees to Pay Civil Monetary Penalty to Settle Alleged Violation of the Social Security Act
Bennett & Gray, LLC of Lindon, Utah, agreed to pay a $50,000 CMP to SSA to settle the SSA OIG claim that the company violated Section 1140 of the Act
The SSA OIG asserted that the websites’ design, along with related domain names, created the false impression of a connection with SSA.
Bennett & Gray voluntarily, and on its own initiative, redesigned its website operation to bring it into compliance with Section 1140. While not admitting that it violated Section 1140 of the Act, Bennett & Gray agreed to pay a CMP to settle the claim. Bennett & Gray also agreed to discontinue the use of the domain names www.sscards.us and www.sscardapplication.com.
Maryland Investment Research Firm Agrees to $55,000 Penalty for Misleading Advertising Alleging Insider Contacts at SSA
Stansberry & Associates Investment Research, LLC (Stansberry), of Baltimore, Maryland, a subsidiary of Agora, Inc., promoted a misleading “Get Social Security No Matter What Your Age” publication, falsely claiming to have “insiders” at SSA as a source of the publication’s information. OCIG contacted Stansberry after reviewing a publication in which Stansberry falsely implied that its publication was approved, endorsed, authorized, or officially connected to SSA. While not admitting that it violated Section 1140, Stansberry agreed to pay a CMP of $55,000 to settle the claim. Stansberry also voluntarily ceased promotion of its misleading publication, removed all reference to SSA “insiders” on its website, and disabled all active links to these materials.
According to its website, Stansberry “is an independent investment research firm with subscribers in more than 100 different countries.” Stansberry claims to have approximately 315,000 paid, active, unique subscribers, and an additional 500,000 readers who subscribe to various free e-letters and other Stansberry publications.
Kentucky Law Firm Agrees to $7,500 Penalty for Misleading Signage
A Kentucky law firm agreed to pay a $7,500 CMP to settle the OIG’s claim that it had violated Section 1140 of the Act. The OIG contacted the law firm after learning that it had placed “Social Security Sign- Up Office” signs at two of its law office locations. Although the law firm did not admit to a violation, it voluntarily complied with OIG’s request to remove the signs.
New York Attorney Agrees to Remedy Section 1140 Violation
A New York attorney advertised his law firm in local newspapers using a replica of a Social Security card. The advertisements prominently displayed the words “Social Security” and “Disability,” conveying the false impression that the advertisements were authorized, approved, or endorsed by SSA. Additionally, the attorney used pictures of a Social Security card on the law firm website. The attorney voluntarily agreed to cease and desist from using a Social Security card in future advertisements, discontinued current newspaper advertisements, and redesigned his website.
Houston Company Penalized $325,000 for Operating Misleading Social Security-Related Websites
In August, Houston-based Net Forms, LLC, agreed to pay a $325,000 CMP to SSA and discontinue operating several websites designed to entice members of the public to pay a fee for SSA’s Application for a Social Security Card that SSA offers free of charge
The Government filed a civil action in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, charging that several websites operated by Net Forms, LLC violated Section 1140 of the Act for their use of SSA’s words, letters, symbols, and emblems in a manner that gave the false impression that SSA approved, endorsed, or authorized the websites. The Government further charged that operation of the websites violated provisions of Section 1140 related to the fee-based reproduction or distribution of an SSA form or publication, as well as provisions related to providing fee-based assistance to individuals in obtaining a product or service that SSA provided free of charge. SSA provides the Form SS-5 at no cost on its website, www.socialsecurity.gov, as well as at all SSA field offices and other SSA-approved locations throughout the nation.
The website operators contracted with Internet search companies to ensure that online searches for terms related to obtaining a new or replacement Social Security Card would direct potential customers to the websites. Thousands of individuals viewed the websites, and Net Forms, LLC accumulated significant revenues from its sale of the SSA form. Fees for the form reached as high as $29.99, plus an additional $9.99 fee for an automatically renewable annual membership fee to a forms database also operated by Net Forms, LLC.
The successful resolution of the case was the result of a joint effort between the SSA OIG and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Texas.