Free Phones For Veterans Scam



You walk out of a VA facility, and see a booth with people offering free phones and cell service for veterans, all thanks to a government program. You think, today is my lucky day.  The sad thing is “Free” might end up costing you a lot of money.  Scammers are looking to take advantage of you.

Here is how the scam works:

There is a government program — called Lifeline — that offers free or discounted phone service. It’s supported by the Universal Service Fund — a fund all telephone companies and other telecommunications providers pay into (a cost you might see passed on to you in the form of a “Universal Service” line charge on your phone bill). But the program is based on income, not whether you’re a veteran. If you don’t meet the income requirements, you don’t qualify.

The scammers have set up booths near VA facilities and they fail to tell you the limitations of the program they are promoting.  They make you think that you only have to be a veteran to qualify.  They sign you up and you receive your phone. Then months later, veterans who signed up for the program get notices saying they need to provide personal information and documents to prove they meet the income requirements. Many veterans find that their incomes are too high to qualify for the program, and face losing service or paying for something they thought would be free. – Source FTC

To qualify, you must already be on one of the following programs:

  • Federal Public Housing Assistance / Section 8
  • Health Benefit Coverage under Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP)
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP)
  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)


Most states require that your total household income must be no higher than 135% of the Federal Poverty Guideline. A few states allow your household income to be as much as 150% of the Federal Poverty Guideline. Those states are Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas.

2015 Federal Poverty Guidelines X 135%

Here are the same numbers, multiplied by the 135% that the Lifeline program uses in all but those nine states.

Size of
Family Unit
48 Contiguous
States and D.C.
Alaska Hawaii
1 $15,889 $19,872 $18,292
2 21,505 26,892 24,745
3 27,121 33,912 31,198
4 32,737 40,932 37,651
5 38,353 47,952 44,104
6 43,969 54,972 50,557
7 49,585 61,992 57,010
8 55,201 69,012 63,463
For each additional
person, add
5,616 7,020 6,453

To learn more about the Lifeline program, check out the FCC’s Lifeline: Affordable Telephone Service for Income-Eligible Subscribers.

Think you might be eligible for the program? Go to and use the pre-screening tool from the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to see if you might qualify for a free phone. The site also lets you search for Lifeline providers in your state.