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FTC warns against scams for help with broadband subsidy program

It's free to apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. Don't fall for online ads offering signup help for a fee, the Federal Trade Commission warns.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read
Federal Trade Commission building in Washington

Beware scams related to the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, the FTC warns.

Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission is warning Americans about scams popping up on social media offering to "help" people sign up for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which provides people struggling through the pandemic with a subsidy to pay for monthly broadband access and a one-time only discount for a computer. 

The notice, issued on Friday, warns that the ads are government impersonators that look and sound like legitimate government sites, complete with government seals, designed to trick people into handing over personal information or paying a fee. 

"While there is a real government program to help people connect during the pandemic, there's no payment required to enroll," the notice said. "That's just a scam."

Locating local internet providers

The EBB is a pandemic relief program set up by Congress at the end of 2020 to help low-income people and others affected by the COVID-19 pandemic afford broadband. It offers a $50 a month subsidy for broadband ($75 in tribal areas). It also provides a one-time subsidy to buy a laptop or desktop computer or a tablet.  The program, which is administered by the Federal Communications Commission, has helped more than 6 million Americans fund their internet access since May 12, when the program went live. 

The FTC offered some tips to help people avoid the scams:

Locating local internet providers

  • Only apply through the FCC and its listed providers. The only real way to sign up for the EBB is at GetEmergencyBroadband.org. If another company says it can sign you up for this program, check first to see if they're an approved provider.
  • Don't pay up front to get "free" connected devices or services. The EBB program is free for those who qualify. Never pay to sign up to get benefits.
  • Don't give your financial or other personal information to someone who calls, texts or emails and says they're with the FCC. If you think a call or message could be real, stop. Call the Emergency Broadband Support Center at 1-833-511-0311 to check.

If you think you've been scammed, the FTC says to act quickly. It offers advice on its website about how to try to get your money back. If you think someone has stolen your personal information, the FTC says to visit IdentityTheft.gov. 

These scams have been circulating for more than a month. In August, the FCC warned of a website called WiFi Freedom USA, which imitated the government-run signup page, claiming to provide free devices and broadband service through the EBB program. The FCC said then that it had taken steps to have the website disabled and a related social media page taken down. But more than a month later, the scam is still circulating, according to the FTC's warning. 

See also: AT&T vs. Xfinity: Two home internet providers compared