Instant Checkmate defied Fair Credit Reporting Act

FTC spanks local consumer-report provider

San Diego–based Instant Checkmate has agreed to pay $525,000 to the Federal Trade Commission to settle charges that it violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The company, using public records, sells information about consumers (addresses, convictions, marriage information, etc.) to prospective employers and landlords.

But, says the FTC, the company on its website failed to maintain reasonable procedures to ensure that those using its reports had permissible purposes for accessing the records. Nor did the company follow reasonable procedures to assure that its reports were accurate, says the FTC.

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Anon92107: Maybe a good idea you deleted it. Best, Don Bauder

Is there any way of getting your personal information deleted from some of these websites that offer to deliver personal information to anyone who wants to buy it? I noticed one that had no way of contacting them to get information removed. You either bought the report or nothing.

KLoEditor: Lots of people scream about personal information being revealed by these companies, but I don't know how one would remove the information. For example, if you get a traffic ticket, divorce, drunken driving ticket, it becomes a matter of public record. These outfits purportedly use such public records. Best, Don Bauder

I know a little about these websites because I used to work in information mining. When I was in that business the internet was in its infancy. All of the data we handled was on magnetic tape and then CD-ROM’s. It became really crazy when you could put the voter registration records and property records on an entire county the size of San Diego on one CD-ROM. That was in 1992 and one enterprising company began selling the voter registration CD-ROM for $100. That caused the Registrar of Voters to clamp down on data sales. Anyway, that a whole other story.

With the internet, these companies make money selling information that is basically public records of some sort like Don Bauder said. Then the companies sell it to each other. Some of these companies operate under several different names. Often times they offer to sell criminal records which don’t exit or email addresses they don’t have, then you’re out your money unless you spend a great deal of time hounding the company for a refund or disputing the charge on your credit card.

You can opt out on most of the websites, but some make it very difficult. Ironically, to opt-out you may have to give them more personal details about yourself. Also, even if you opt-out there is a good chance your name will pop back up in a year or so because these businesses sell the data to each other and re-populate their databases.

One company that specializes in helping people remove their data from internet database firms is Albine. They also offer some handy tips on how to do it yourself.

In my opinion the business is a double-edged sword. It’s good if it is used for positive purposes and bad in the hands of wrongdoers. Since I am handy at locating data, I have helped many people relocate relatives and loved ones they lost touch with. I’ve helped law firms find the heirs named in wills and I helped track down deadbeat dads. It’s not what I do for a living, I just do it as a favor for friends. But some people abuse the data and use it for marketing or worse to stalk. For example, since the age accompanies most data, many scoundrels will target elderly people for scams.

Ponzi: That is very useful information you are giving. I use these services occasionally in tracking down crooks. In one case I realized that I was being charged every month for the service. Again -- the statement was in small print, tucked away in an inconspicuous spot, and I missed it because I was in a hurry for information. We paid for five months. As I recall, I hollered and got two months knocked off. Best, Don Bauder

I believe these are the same people that stay camped out every single day in the clerk's office at the courthouse from the minute it opens until they shut the doors. It takes the equivalent of two full time clerks all day long to look up the information that these people are requesting. The problem is that in this era of massive budget cuts (new courthouse notwithstanding) these people who are only at the courthouse for the purpose of collecting data to be sold to a third party take away significant resources from people who are legitimately at the courthouse to do their business, including the attorneys. Personally, I would like to see Michael Roddy, the Superior Court Administrator, limit the number of inquiries that these people are allowed to conduct each day, or in the alternative, create a policy to simply pull the court files for them and let them figure out the information for themselves.

honeybadger: Thanks for the significant information. I did not know any of this. I just wonder if the court administrator could legally restrict the amount of information being demanded by information miners. Best, Don Bauder

Well they are public records and are required to be available for review. A few of the people camping out in the clerk’s office are collecting fictitious business name (aka “dba”) filings for sales leads. That gives sales organization an edge in soliciting to people openi9ng new business (before the statement is filed in the local papers). Others are collecting civil and criminal information for background checks and security clearances. Or they may be collecting for news media. They are also adding more online services where you can download the documents for a fee. I feel the system is working well as it is.

Don Bauder: As a journalist, the last thing I want is a restriction on access to public information. Some may abuse the right, but I would rather see that than opening the door to government cutting down access. Best, Don Bauder

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