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by Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin, September 29, 2008
The Democrats have their donkey. The Republicans have their elephant. But others want you as their pigeon. As the Nov. 4 election nears, ’tis the season of voter registration scams. This Scam Alert, the second of two parts, explores “convenience services” that charge a fee for something you can do for free—register to vote.
Voting is a privilege—and a right—for U.S. citizens. No fee is required.
Yet there are online services that will register you to vote or change your political party for you, for pay. Offering to fill out paperwork (which you could easily do yourself) is not illegal, but some of these services don’t pass the ethics smell test.
One website that has generated complaints from consumers—and warnings from officials—is www.iwanttovote.com. For $9.95, it offers online voter registration as a “convenience service.” The website asks the registrant for personal information, including address, birth date, driver’s license number and credit card information.
Officials in several areas—including Chicago, New Jersey and North Carolina—are warning consumers not to use this or similar voter registration services requiring fees.
“It is unfortunate that a private Internet company is charging a fee to the public for a service that is absolutely free and readily available through numerous government offices,” said Ocean County, N.J., Clerk Carl W. Block in a prepared statement.
Besides the initial voter registration fee, iwanttovote.com enrolls its customers as members for an additional $9.95 per month. In an e-mail to Scam Alert, an unnamed employee says the benefits of membership include election reminders and contact information for local voter offices—information widely available elsewhere at no charge.
The e-mail says membership is “elected,” but in fact, the company uses “negative-option” enrollment—meaning you are automatically enrolled after a 30-day trial period until you cancel. The website does not provide a telephone number to cancel memberships or to answer questions.
According to the Better Business Bureau, iwanttotvote.com is owned by RPM Industries LLC, which has an unsatisfactory BBB rating for failure to respond to consumer complaints. Officials at the Oklahoma-based website declined a telephone interview with Scam Alert and would not identify themselves, despite repeated requests.
Free voter registration forms are available at your city, county or township clerk or election board offices. If these offices have websites, they may also post the forms online. In addition, post offices, schools, libraries and other taxpayer-funded facilities may have the forms.
Or you can register to vote online at no charge at www.eac.gov, the website of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency.
If you believe you’ve been a victim of a voter registration scam, contact your local elections board. Or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online or by calling 1-877-382-4357 toll-free.
Remember that scammers can use any data they collect to apply for new loans and credit cards in your name—see last week’s report on a phony voter registration scam.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).
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