Consumer Protection - Section 1140
Section 1140 of the Social Security Act (Section 1140) (42 United States Code 1320b-10) is a consumer protection law.
Section 1140 prohibits people, companies, and other organizations, from misleading consumers by giving a false impression of association with, or authorization or endorsement by, the Social Security Administration (SSA), through any type of communication, such as:
- telephone solicitations
- social media
- postal mail
- text messages
- YouTube, television, and radio broadcasts
Section 1140 also prohibits the:
Reproduction and sale of SSA publications and forms without the SSA’s authorization; and Charging fees to assist an individual to obtain a product or service provided free of charge by the SSA, without providing a notice to the customer that:
- Explains that the product or service is available free of charge from the SSA,
- Is clearly and prominently placed and written in a font that is distinguishable from the rest of the text.
Any determination as to whether a communication or sale of SSA forms and publications is a violation, is made without regard to any inclusion of a disclaimer of affiliation with the United States Government or any particular agency or instrumentality thereof.
Penalties for Violations
The SSA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) can impose civil monetary penalties against those who violate Section 1140. The penalty rate, which is adjusted each year for inflation, is currently set at $12,397.00 for each violative communication. If the violation is in the form of a generally aired broadcast the penalty rate is $61,982.00 per airing.
For example, if the violative communication is in the form of a postal mailing or website, each piece of mail or each viewing of the website is subject to a separate penalty. Likewise, each violative sale of a SSA form or publication or each charging of a fee for a free SSA service, is subject to a separate penalty. Each viewing of a YouTube or other Internet video is considered a separate violation and is subject to a penalty up to $12,397.
The Social Security Act also authorizes the OIG to pursue injunctive relief for Section 1140 violations and enjoin an individual or entity from engaging in the violative conduct, and from the concealing, removing, encumbering and/or the disposing of assets, which may be required in order to pay a civil monetary penalty. (42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7a(k)).