Thursday, February 9, 2006

Printer Friendly

Attorney General Abbott Files First Suit Against Sellers Of Private Phone Records

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today filed the state’s first lawsuit against a “data broker” and his companies – USA Skiptrace, AMS Research Services Inc. and Worldwide Investigations Inc. – for fraudulently marketing consumers’ private phone records. The suit comes in the aftermath of Attorney General Abbott announcing his broad investigation into several of these Web-based businesses last month.

The Attorney General is also seeking a temporary restraining order today against the Web-based businesses, found at www.usaskiptrace.com, and president John Strange of Denver. The businesses must answer to several allegations outlined in Attorney General Abbott’s suit, including openly soliciting services for a fee of at least $125 to produce private cell or land-line phone records, business or personal.

Media Links

Sample of USASkipTrace
Website

Video of USASkipTrace.com
Website
(no audio)

View Video of News Conference
Attorney General's Lawsuit Against USASkipTrace.com
Temporary Restraining Order Against USASkipTrace.com

“Texas consumers expect their private information to be kept confidential,” said Attorney General Abbott. “USA Skiptrace is stealing private phone records without consumers’ consent or knowledge. This is an outrageous invasion of personal privacy and will not be tolerated in Texas.”

The lawsuit alleges that for $125, the company will 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 is required to fill out a form on USA Skiptrace’s Web site and pay for the service using credit card information. The purchaser provides the cell phone number, name and address of the person whose phone records are being sought. AMS Research Services Inc. and its general manager Strange then notify the purchaser his order will be fulfilled via email in between one and six business days.

The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that USA Skiptrace does not follow legal protocols such as subpoenas in obtaining these records, nor do consumers whose information is being requested receive notification of the activity. In fact, Strange boasts in his email correspondence that “we never contact the owners of phone numbers searched” and that the “owner has no way of knowing about the search or who ordered it.”

Moreover, the Attorney General has reason to believe Strange uses one or more illegal pretexts for obtaining this information, such as posing as the person whose records are being requested or claiming to speak for that person as his or her representative. Strange may also have illegally accessed phone company Web sites exclusively maintained for the personal use of the targeted consumer.

The suit alleges USA Skiptrace has violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which allows the state to seek civil penalties of $20,000 per violation. The suit also seeks attorneys’ fees and investigative costs.

The Attorney General continues to investigate other data brokers who may be violating the law and breaching the privacy of innocent consumers. Attorney General Abbott urges consumers to contact their cell phone companies to find out if any party has requested their cell phone records. Otherwise, consumers may have no way of knowing if their privacy has been breached. Consumers may also request a unique password-protected account through their cell phone companies to prevent others from accessing these records.

Consumers who believe their private information may have been illegally obtained by a fraudulent data marketer may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office by calling toll-free (800) 252-8011 or accessing the agency’s Web site at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.