New technologies and the internet have been great for helping claimants find out information about the Social Security process or finding qualified representation. Unfortunately, it has also allowed for some representatives to engage in rather deceptive practices. One of the most common scenarios that I see now occurs when individuals attempt to file online.
Typically, they will do a search similar to “filing SSDI claim.” A number of websites are listed, only one of which is the official Social Security website (www.ssa.gov). It is extremely common now for claimants, thinking they are applying for disability benefits, to fill out online forms with one of the other websites. However, instead of filing out an application, they are really giving their private information to a lead referral service
After giving your information to a lead referral service, your personal information is forwarded on to one or more different firms who will race to call you and sign you up as a client. These firms may be on the other side of the country from you, though they rarely disclose this. The representative may or may not explain to the claimant that they are calling to solicit business and to put the claimant under a contract. Some will just state that they are “calling to assist with the application” and that they are “calling to help them.”
In my opinion, the practices engaged by these lead referral websites comes close to crossing ethical boundaries. I am personally very troubled by the fact that they are not more up front that they are gathering information for the purpose of passing your private information to another party. They also don’t tell you that many of these websites will give your information to numerous different attorneys. I have had clients come in telling me of receiving multiple calls from 4-5 different attorneys/representatives.
My advice when it is time to file for disability is to go to the local Social Security office to file. This may take a bit longer, but will likely be done correctly. The vast majority of claimants are able to file their claims on their own just by working with local office staff. However, if you feel that you do need representation in filing an initial claim, set up an appointment with a local attorney who focuses on Social Security law. Go into the attorney’s office and discuss the matter face to face. Make sure that you are comfortable with this person before you begin a potentially lengthy and difficult process.
Finally, if you have hired one of these groups by mistake, you should seriously consider whether you wish to continue with them as your representative. You can fire an attorney or representative. The representative will have a right to seek a fee for his or her time in the case. However, if you just hired the representative and he hasn’t done much on your case, then you are unlikely to end up owing him much for the time spent.