When the Labor Department officially delayed full implementation of its fiduciary rule until July 1, 2019, it said the extension would give the department more time “to consider public comments.” Now it turns out that many of those public comments were probably fake, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal.
The newspaper hired research firm Mercury Analytics to survey 345 commenters among more than 3,100 who “appeared to be unaffiliated with industry or consumer groups or firms” and whose comments were critical of the fiduciary rule. Fifty people responded and 20 of them, or 40%, said they had never sent a comment to the Labor Department.
Mercury Analysis said the survey results indicate “that the practice of submitting comments without the approval of the individuals identified occurs with frequency,” according to the Journal story. It quotes several of the survey respondents who were falsely identified as commenters, none of them happy with the fraudulent use of their names and other personal information.
It’s not clear who is behind the fraudulent comments that the Labor Department received.
A department spokesman told the Journal that the agency removes fraudulent comments that are brought to its attention and there are criminal penalties for submitting fraudulent statements or representations to the federal government. He told ThinkAdvisor that individuals who believe comments have been fraudulently attributed to them can call the department at 1-800-347-3756 or visit https://www.oig.dol.gov/hotlinecontact.htm.
The Journal’s story is not the first time that fraudulent comments have been submitted to federal agencies. The Pew Research Center found that more than half of the 21.7 million public comments sent to the Federal Communications Commission in response to its proposal to end net neutrality used temporary or duplicate email addresses and seemed to include false or misleading information.
An investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman found that as many as 2 million fraudulent comments were filed with the FCC on net neutrality including 5,000 who filed reports with his office. The Wall Street Journal also reported on fraudulent comments sent to the FCC about the net neutrality rule as well as fraudulent public comments submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
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