Within the past few years, telemarketers have become more than just an annoyance at dinner time. While many represent legitimate businesses, some are scam artists or thieves who target the elderly, millions of whom are being tricked into giving out personal information over the phone. The worst part about it is, telemarketing fraud is no longer limited to small-time thieves. According to the New York Times, "Vast databases of names and personal information, sold to thieves by large publicly traded companies, have put almost anyone within reach of fraudulent telemarketers."
One of the biggest compilers of consumer information, infoUSA, is in a lot of hot water for selling many of its lists to known thieves. According to the New York Times, "infoUSA sold lists to World Marketing Service, a company that a judge shut down in 2003 for funding a lottery scam; to Atlas Marketing, which a court closed in 2006 for selling $86 million of bogus business opportunities; and to Emerald Marketing Enterprises, a Canadian firm that was investigated multiple times but never charged with wrongdoing." The Times also mentions that infoUSA continued to sell lists to Windfall Investments after the company had been accused by the FBI of stealing $600,000 from a California woman in 2002.
The fact that there are list brokers that continually sell the names and personal information of people to companies who have been known to misuse the information is alarming. The Federal Trade Commission prohibits list brokers from selling to companies engaged in obvious frauds, and the Direct Marketing Association (to which infoUSA belongs) requires brokers to screen buyers for suspicious activity. However, even with these regulations in place, many companies repeatedly choose to disregard them. Some of them even seem to be advertising to fraudulent companies by titling their lists with such names as "Elderly Opportunity Seekers" and "Suffering Seniors." Steve St. Clair, an Iowa assistant attorney general who oversaw the infoUSA investigation, told the Times that "the attitude of these list brokers is that it’s not their responsibility if someone else breaks the law."
It is just this sort of attitude that really highlights the importance of prevention. It would be nice if we could count on companies to take care of us and protect our information, but we can’t. When it comes down to it, the only person that can protect you and your assets is you. NCPC has a great publication called Seniors and Telemarketing Fraud 101 that provides seniors with all sorts of tips on how they can avoid being taken advantage of. The Federal Trade Commission’s website also provides many helpful hints on keeping your identity safe from telemarketers.