NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Information Brokers" Accessing Private Financial Data

November 5, 1998

Experts report rapid growth in a new industry: firms hired to snoop into individuals' private bank accounts and report balances to their clients. The acting U.S. Comptroller of the Currency calls dishonest information brokering a "growing and alarming practice." Others call the growth of the industry "explosive."
  • Observers say the rise of these asset-search firms has been fueled by the Internet -- which is making it easier for them to advertise and gather information on individuals.
  • The firms' clients are often debt collectors or lawyers who want to know if an individual is wealthy enough to bring suit against.
  • One ploy used by the firms is to send phony rebate checks to targeted individuals and then get their bank account numbers from the canceled check.
  • The firms' employees then call the bank posing as the customer and request his or her account balance.

Some of the companies also offer to track down mutual fund accounts and obtain unlisted telephone numbers. One trick is to call up a targeted individual and offer "pre-approved" credit in the form of a cash advance, then take down the individual's Social Security number, date of birth and bank account numbers.

Connecticut's Attorney General is reported to be looking into several information brokers to determine if there have been possible privacy violations.

Source: Jon G. Auerbach, Mark Maremont and Gary Putka, "With These Operators, Your Bank Account Is Now an Open Book," Wall Street Journal, November 5, 1998.


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