Private sector can help cut down on service animal fraud

Private sector can help cut down on service animal fraud
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The Americans with Disabilities Act has a long history of providing critical support for nearly 60 million people, but today it’s failing miserably at protecting 400,000 Americans who need service animals to manage serious medical issues.  Lax enforcement of inconsistent standards has spurred massive fraud that effectively blocks many of our fellow citizens from daily access to basic aspects of American life and liberty.  

Last week, Massachusetts legislators voted to be the 13th state to criminalize fake service dogs.  But more help is needed to end this insidious type of fraud.  And fortunately, we don’t need Congress to do anything.  The private sector — particularly in the airline, hospitality, restaurant and retail industries — is in prime position and is incentivized to create an actionable plan that:

  1. Cracks down on fraud;
  2. Protects the rights of disabled Americans;
  3. Reduces use of government resources; and
  4. Provides bottom-line growth opportunity for corporations.

Yes, there’s actually a path for corporations to grow profits by intervening and helping an underserved community.  Here’s how.

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The ADA clearly defines a “service animal,” but the lack of a certification process causes widespread confusion at stores, restaurants and airports — where unethical people demand unneeded services and paralyze businesses that don’t know what a service animal is and don’t want to be sued for being wrong. Consequently, doubt and cynicism of legitimately-needed service dogs is at an all-time high.

People with genuine medical needs pay the price — like the wounded Marine veteran denied basic work accommodations and the spinal injury victim booted from an airport lounge.  And so do big corporations, which take turns facing public shaming, PR disasters, boycotts and lost revenue when a new viral video shows the mistreatment of a handicapped person.

American, Delta and United have faced such backlash recently, and it’s actually within the airline industry — the CLEAR system — where a solution lays.  If a private program like CLEAR can verify identity at terrorism targets like airports and stadiums, and a system for distributing handicapped parking placards can be created in 50 states, surely a program can be created to certify people with disabilities and their service animals.

Imagine the financial benefits these companies will realize when they no longer give freebies to fraudsters and, instead, open their doors to a large, previously inaccessible audience.

The system can be:

Effective at separating people in need from fraudsters.  

Doctors, who by law must be licensed, can help eliminate fraud if they’re held accountable for false certifications.  If doctors knowingly or recklessly enable scammers, their eligibility for the program could be terminated, which could hurt their practice.  And, as for service dogs, it’s not hard to verify service-eligible dogs by reviewing behavioral history, training records and a notarized owner statement.  

Secure at reasonable cost.  

A Google search for “service animal certification” yields 8.6 million results, with many representing legitimate-sounding organizations that purport to provide “proof” an animal is a service dog.  We must raise the barriers for scammers.  If companies can use microchip implants to manage facility access to employees and CLEAR can verify an individual’s identity for travel, a forgery-resistant service animal system can be produced with cards, chips, or holograms.

Easy to implement.  

Nearly every company’s onboarding process includes training on policies, protocols and practices.  One universal, basic set of instructions on how to verify an individual’s certification to be accompanied by a service animal could be included with minimal effort on the part of companies.

Efficient in collaborating with government programs.  

Gaining access to services through deception is equivalent to theft, and the massive increase in service animal fraud harms those who need them.  There are laws for reducing handicapped parking fraud, but thirty-seven more states must follow Massachusetts and treat offenders accordingly.  The private sector’s system would provide tools to track the bad guys.

Accessible to all.  

To ensure equal access to all Americans in need, this program must offer appropriate fee waivers for when someone provides medical and financial documentation to support them.

Raising the initial financial commitment to make all this happen is easier said than done.  But, smart business leaders recognize the ROI that clear and consistent standards can yield as they make their companies more efficient, raise customer satisfaction, grow their customer bases and limit crippling PR disasters.

Regardless of America’s political divisions, we need common-sense business solutions to supplement public policy.  If corporations can justify the investment to aid states in improving the ADA, let’s give them a shot.

Greg Liberman is the CEO of PuppySpot.com, connecting dog lovers with responsible sources. Follow him on Twitter @gliberman.