SPOKANE, Wash. - Several viewers contacted KHQ's Dan Kleckner with concerns about the cell phone carrier Assurance Wireless. The company seems like a good deal: they offer a cell phone with 250 minutes every month for free. Is it too good to be true?
Gloria was skeptical and sent this email: "KHQ and other stations have been advertising Assurance wireless free phones for people on limited incomes. I am definitely in this category and called the number for Assurance."
"The operator wanted not only my name, address, phone, age, and banking information but also wanted to know which government programs I use and my Mother's maiden name"
".... As well as other information commonly used as safeguards to your bank account and financial/medical records. Is this a legitimate program? Or have I just set myself up for a lot of financial problems?"
Well, KHQ investigated and the good news for Gloria - and others - is this program is legitimate.
Assurance Wireless is run and monitored by the FCC. The program is part of Sprint Nextel's pre-paid division including Virgin Mobile. In short, Assurance Wireless provides free phones for people on a limited income in order to help them get back on their feet.
In a phone interview, Assurance Wireless Corporate Communications Manager Jack Pflanz said, "We're certainly legitimate. What we're trying to do is help people who are facing hard, economic times to get back on their feet so we're providing them with a resource that they can use to contact potential employers and save money on their phone service so now they can use this money to buy food for children, pay their utility bills, pay their rent."
THE APPLICATION PROCESS:
Applying can be complicated. So here's what you need to know:
There are only two ways to apply. One, if you already receive government aid from programs like food stamps, social security income, and disability. Two, if you have a low household income which typically means below the poverty level.
if you do apply for a phone, representatives should only ask for your basic information including your name, address, telephone number, and some documentation like paperwork or pay-stubs that prove you receive government assistance..
If you're applying under low income category, representatives could also be asked for a state or federal tax return.
According to the company, representatives should not be asking for your mother's maiden name or your social security number unless it's on one of the documents needed to apply.
WHO PAYS FOR THE PROGRAM?
the program is paid for through what's called the Universal Lifeline Program. It began in the 1980's under the Ronald Reagan Administration with landlines and later expanded to wireless service. All cell phone carriers across the country are required to pay into Universal fund.
Cell phone carriers, like Sprint, can later apply for that money to set up subsidy programs such as Assurance Wireless.
Assurance Wireless - http://www.assurancewireless.com/awlanding/awlandingwelcome.aspx?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=about+assurance+wireless&utm_campaign=washington-branded(gt)
Washington customers can read about Lifeline and the Washington Telephone Assistance Program by going to <http://www.utc.wa.gov/consumers/telephone/Pages/telephoneAssistanceProgram.aspx>.
To confirm Assurance Wireless's status as an authorized Lifeline provider, consumers may contact the Washington Commission at 1-888-333-WUTC (9882) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attached for reference is the November 10, 2010 WUTC Order granting Virgin Mobile the status required (Eligible Telecommunications Carrier status) to offer Lifeline service and a description of the Assurance Wireless program:
Assurance Wireless to Aid Washington Residents Facing Economic Hardship with Free Cell Phone and Wireless Service
More than 282,000 residents eligible to receive Assurance Wireless
WARREN, N.J. - Dec. 22, 2010 - Today, Assurance Wireless <http://www.assurancewireless.com/Public/Welcome.aspx>, a cell phone service from Virgin Mobile that provides a free wireless phone and 250 free minutes of wireless voice service monthly to eligible customers, launches in Washington.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that the percentage of Americans living in poverty increased by 14.3 percent in 2009 -- the highest rate of poverty in 15 years. An additional 4 million Americans found themselves in poverty in 2009, bringing the total to 44 million.
More than 322,000 Washington residents are currently without a job and more than 12.3 percent are living below the federal poverty line. Assurance Wireless gives eligible customers the ability to provide a contact number and return calls to a prospective employer, which, studies show, can improve the chances of securing employment as well as provide a simple way to stay connected to family in case of emergencies.
"With unemployment in Washington at 6.2 percent, people need to be connected if for no other reason than to be able to apply for and obtain a new job," said Grace Boehm, director for Assurance Wireless.
According to a recent nationwide survey from Assurance Wireless*, adults with an income of less than $25,000 are as likely to use their mobile phone for employment searches as those with higher incomes.
"Programs like Assurance are so important for helping individuals and families stay on, or get back on, their feet and succeed in these difficult financial times," explained business columnist and personal finance expert Louis Barajas.
"As a state, we've taken the issues of poverty very seriously and are actively seeking out relief with outside partners," said State Representative Dawn Morrell, 25th District. "Assurance Wireless has the potential to support over 300,000 of our currently unemployed residents by providing a service that can help them seek employment."
Assurance Wireless has also introduced more choices to give its customers the opportunity to pay to add voice minutes and text messaging to their free wireless service. The core offer remains the same: 250 minutes of free talk time, a free phone with the ability to buy additional minutes or texts at 10 cents each. The $5 Talk offer increases the amount of minutes available each month to 500; the $20 Talk & Text offer increases the minutes to 1,000 and adds 1,000 text messages. The new offers include a Service Protector feature which ensures that the basic 250 free minutes are guaranteed each month a customer is eligible, even if a customer cannot pay the additional dollars during a particular month. These new offers are available to all Assurance Wireless subscribers.
In addition to voice mail and call waiting, Assurance Wireless provides caller ID and access to 911 in case of emergency. Beyond the free 250 voice minutes, customers can pay for additional 10-cent-per-minute domestic calling, 10-cent text, e-mail or instant messages, international calling at competitive rates, and more.
Customers eligible for Assurance Wireless include those who participate in
Medical Assistance, Food Stamps/SNAP, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Community Options Program Entry System (COPES), Disability Lifeline, DSHS Chore Service, Refugee Assistance or State Family Assistance (SFA). Customers may also qualify based on low household income.
Eligible residents can apply for Assurance Wireless by calling (toll-free) 800-395-2171, or visiting www.assurancewireless.com <http://www.assurancewireless.com>.
Assurance Wireless is currently also available in Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
About Sprint Nextel
Sprint Nextel offers a comprehensive range of wireless and wireline communications services bringing the freedom of mobility to consumers, businesses and government users. Sprint Nextel served more than 48.8 million customers at the end of the third quarter of 2010 and is widely recognized for developing, engineering and deploying innovative technologies, including the first wireless 4G service from a national carrier in the United States; offering industry-leading mobile data services, leading prepaid brands including Virgin Mobile USA, Boost Mobile, Common Cents Mobile and Assurance Wireless; instant national and international push-to-talk capabilities; and a global Tier 1 Internet backbone. Newsweek ranked Sprint No. 6 in its 2010 Green Rankings, listing it as one of the nation's greenest companies, the highest of any telecommunications company. You can learn more and visit Sprint at www.sprint.com <http://www.sprint.com> or www.facebook.com/sprint <http://www.facebook.com/sprint> and www.twitter.com/sprint <http://www.twitter.com/sprint>.
About Assurance Wireless
Assurance Wireless, one of' Sprints <http://www.sprint.com/index_p.html?state=true&ECID=SEM:Google:R:Sprint:Local:Geo:Targeted> prepaid brands, is supported by the Lifeline Assistance program, part of the Low Income Program of the federal Universal Service Fund (USF), which is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), and designed to ensure that quality telecommunications services are available to low-income customers at reasonable and affordable rates. Assurance Wireless uses the Nationwide Sprint Network, which reaches more than 275 million people.
To learn more about Assurance Wireless, including eligibility requirements, please call (toll-free) 800-395-2171 or visit www.assurancewireless.com <http://www.assurancewireless.com>. Information is available in English and Spanish.
Please follow Assurance news on Twitter www.twitter.com/assurancecell <http://www.twitter.com/assurancecell>, YouTube, <http://www.youtube.com/assurancewireless>, or Facebook www.facebook.com/assurancecell <http://www.facebook.com/assurancecell>.
Note: sources for all information and statistics are available upon request
*PKS Research Partners was commissioned by Sprint/Nextel (Assurance Wireless) to conduct a research project among a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults 25 years or older in order to determine their attitudes toward and usage of mobile phones.