Thursday, October 09, 2008

Data Brokers Settle Charges of Selling Private Phone Records

This posting was written by Thomas A. Long, Editor of CCH Privacy Law in Marketing.

Web-based “data broker” businesses and their principals have settled charges by the Texas Attorney General that they violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by fraudulently marketing consumers’ private telephone records, it was announced on September 25.

Under an agreed final judgment, the companies—USA Skiptrace, AMS Research Services, Inc., and Worldwide Investigations, Inc.—and their principals are permanently prohibited from obtaining and selling consumers’ private telephone records.

According to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, USA Skiptrace, for a fee of $125, would obtain a person’s phone record history, including the number of calls made and received, the duration of calls, dates and times, and other private information.

The purchaser of such information was required to fill out a form on USA Skiptrace’s website and to pay for the service with a credit card. The purchaser provided the cell phone number, name, and address of the person whose phone records were being sought. AMS Research Services Inc. then notified the purchaser via e-mail that the order would be fulfilled between one and six business days.

“The sale of the personal cell phone information is an outrageous invasion of personal privacy that will not be tolerated in Texas,” Abbott said. “Today’s judgment permanently bans these defendants from peddling customer phone records without prior consent.”

USA Skiptrace was enjoined from representing that it can obtain private phone records without first obtaining a lawfully-issued subpoena or receiving prior consent from the individual or company.

The defendants were also barred from employing “pretexting” practices to obtain personal phone information, such as posing as the person whose records are being requested or claiming to speak for that person as his or her representative. The corporate defendants were ordered to pay $150,000 in civil penalties, with their principals also responsible for a separate fine of $2,500.

A news release on the case appears here on the Texas Attorney General’s website. The agreed final judgment and permanent injunction in State of Texas v. Strange appears at CCH Privacy Law in Marketing ¶60,251.

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