FTC Charges Data Broker with Facilitating the Theft of Millions of Dollars from Consumers’ Accounts
by Carol Thompson
A data broker operation sold the sensitive personal information of hundreds of thousands of consumers – including Social Security and bank account numbers – to scammers who allegedly debited millions from their accounts, the Federal Trade Commission charged in a complaint filed Dec. 23.
According to the FTC’s complaint, data broker LeapLab bought payday loan applications of financially strapped consumers, and then sold that information to marketers whom it knew had no legitimate need for it. At least one of those marketers, Ideal Financial Solutions – a defendant in another FTC case – allegedly used the information to withdraw millions of dollars from consumers’ accounts without their authorization.
“This case shows that the illegitimate use of sensitive financial information causes real harm to consumers,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Defendants like those in this case harm consumers twice: first by facilitating the theft of their money and second by undermining consumers’ confidence about providing their personal information to legitimate lenders.”
The defendants collected hundreds of thousands of payday loan applications from payday loan websites known as publishers. Publishers typically offer to help consumers obtain payday loans. To do so, they ask for consumers’ sensitive financial information to evaluate their loan applications and transfer funds to their bank accounts if the loan is approved. These applications, including those bought and sold by LeapLab, contained the consumer’s name, address, phone number, employer, Social Security number, and bank account number, including the bank routing number, according to the FTC.
The defendants sold approximately five percent of these loan applications to online lenders, who paid them between $10 and $150 per lead. According to the FTC’s complaint however, the defendants sold the remaining 95 percent for approximately $0.50 each to third parties who were not online lenders and had no legitimate need for this financial information.
The Commission’s complaint alleges that these non-lender third parties included: marketers that made unsolicited sales offers to consumers via email, text message, or telephone call; data brokers that aggregated and then resold consumer information; and phony internet merchants like Ideal Financial Solutions. According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants had reason to believe these marketers had no legitimate need for the sensitive information they were selling.
In the FTC’s case against Ideal Financial Solutions, between 2009 and 2013, Ideal Financial allegedly purchased information on at least 2.2 million consumers from data brokers and used it to make millions of dollars in unauthorized debits and charges for purported financial products that the consumers never purchased. LeapLab provided account information for at least 16 percent these victims.
The complaint notes that LeapLab hired a key executive from Ideal Financial as its own Chief Marketing Officer and then knew that Ideal used the information purchased from it to make unauthorized debits. Yet, the complaint alleges, the defendants continued to sell such information to Ideal.
The defendants in the case, Sitesearch Corp., LeapLab LLC; Leads Company LLC; and John Ayers, are alleged to have violated the FTC Act’s prohibition on unfair practices.
Image: Flickr/Helen Cobain