Mismatched and Mistaken

By Sarah Mancini, Kate Lang, and Chi Chi Wu From The National Consumer Law Center: For Complete Post, Click Here…


The federal government has a long history of trying to use private databases in its efforts to prevent improper receipt of public benefits. But these efforts can backfire.

Recently, this practice was implemented in a way that could potentially be harming thousands of extremely low-income elderly and people with disabilities by cutting off their benefits based on inaccurate information. In fiscal year 2018, the Social Security Administration (SSA) began using a data set from LexisNexis (Lexis) called Accurint for Government on a widespread basis to determine whether recipients of needs-based government assistance had unreported real property that could disqualify them from the receipt of such benefits.

Since the advent of SSA’s use of the Accurint for Government (Accurint) product, advocates representing individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits have reported significant problems with clients being falsely accused of owning real property. People who rely on SSI to survive have received letters from SSA suspending their benefits or assessing an overpayment based on supposedly owning real property that puts them over the resource limit.

Often the suspension letter does not even identify the alleged real property at issue. Too often, the data
relied upon is inaccurate. Vulnerable SSI recipients, who are by definition either disabled or elderly and extremely low income, must attempt to prove a negative— prove that they do not own the real property—to the satisfaction of the employees in their local SSA office.

And even worse, they may lose their benefits or face an offset for alleged overpayment during that appeal process, depending on the timing of their appeal.

Lexis appears to be attempting to evade the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), by inserting a disclaimer at the bottom of its promotional website stating, “Accurint for Government is not a consumer report (as defined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act) and may not be used for any purpose permitted by the FCRA.” This type of disclaimer is part of a wave of businesses attempting to skirt coverage of the FCRA by disclaiming any intent to provide a “consumer report.” By claiming that Accurint for Government is not a consumer report, Lexis is attempting to dodge the FCRA’s requirements to adhere to certain standards of accuracy, and SSA is trying to avoid requirements to provide notices to consumers before taking any adverse action based on information contained in the report.

If the FCRA applies, consumers would have the right to dispute inaccurate information contained in the report and have it investigated and corrected by LexisNexis.

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