Attorney General Cuomo Stops Internet Company From Illegally Selling Personal Consumer Information

NEW YORK, N.Y. (May 20, 2008) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced his office has stopped a leading Internet company dealing in personal information from illegally selling the private credit bureau data of thousands of consumers across the nation.

Under the terms of the settlement, online data broker USSearch.com has also paid $250,000 in penalties and costs for violating federal laws designed to prohibit such abuses.

“Companies with access to a consumer’s private information must do all they can to keep it private,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “With the crime of identity theft running rampant across the globe, it is critical that personal data, including sensitive credit bureau information, not be readily available to anyone with Internet access. This settlement puts a stop to the practice that US Search was engaging in and requires penalties for breaking the law.”

US Search.com, Inc. provides information found in public domain, such as court records, real estate records and telephone directories, to consumers trying to locate people by alias and address history. For an additional fee, however, the company would offer businesses non-public personally identifiable information from credit reporting agencies - Equifax, TransUnion and Experian - and financial institutions.

A one-year investigation by the Attorney General’s Office uncovered that the company illegally accessed and sold consumer data compiled by these agencies as an “extra benefit” to business clients by falsely claiming to have a lawful purpose for the data. The data included sensitive information including consumers’ names, aliases, current/prior addresses, telephone numbers and birth dates. The company also accessed Social Security numbers as a way to verify the sensitive information.

In total, US Search illegally obtained private consumer information more than 2,385 times. More so, each request often resulted in additional information on the individual’s associates, relatives and/or neighbors, making the number of individuals whose information was wrongfully obtained much higher. All of the information requests were made unbeknownst to the consumer and US Search did not maintain records of individuals whose information was accessed.

Under the terms of the settlement, US Search.com. Inc., will:

  • Immediately suspend its illegal use of credit bureau data;
  • Pay $250,000 in penalties, (approximately five times the amount it made from selling the illegally obtained information);
  • Require clients to certify that they have a permissible purpose for accessing non-public personal information and allow all certifications to be inspected by the Attorney General’s Office upon request;
  • Train those responsible for accessing, using or disclosing any non-public personal information to ensure compliance with terms of the settlement and all applicable laws.

Federal law regulating the use of non-public personal information collected by financial institutions (Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act) strictly prohibits sale and misuse of financial information with few exceptions (e.g. if consumer consent is obtained or the information is used for protection against fraud).

During the course of the Attorney General’s investigation, US Search was sold from First Advantage Corporation to Cricket Operating Company, LLC. Attorney General Cuomo’s Office reached a separate but similar agreement with the new owners to ensure that the company’s illegal practices are completely stopped.

Attorney General Cuomo urges all consumers to take precautionary steps to ensure their identities and private information is protected. The Attorney General’s Internet Bureau, one of the first of its kind in the nation, offers tips about Internet safety online at www.ag.ny.gov/internet/consumer-education

The case was handled by Karen Geduldig, Assistant Attorney General in the Internet Bureau, under the direction of Justin Brookman, Chief of the Internet Bureau.

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