Thursday, May 24, 2007

InfoUSA Making Profits By Setting Up The Elderly For Criminals

It seems that executives of  InfoUSA  may have been hatched in test tubes because their actions clearly indicate that they have no parents.   Or if they do have parents they have as much filial affection as the Menendez brothers.    The mere fact that they could sell lists entitled "Suffering Seniors"  and "Oldies But Goodies" is a testament to capitalism without conscience.  
But even sadder is the statement this article makes of how lonely the lives of many elderly people are that they welcome the calls from telemarketers.   This is something that we will all have to reflect upon.
Where are all the good class actions lawyers that would be willing to take on companies like InfoUSA?   If the criminal courts can't stop these predators maybe they can be sued out of existence.
Bilking the Elderly, With a Corporate Assist

Read the entire article at: 

The thieves operated from small offices in Toronto and hangar-size rooms in India.  Every night, working from lists of names and phone numbers, they called World War II veterans, retired schoolteachers and thousands of other elderly Americans and posed as government and insurance workers updating their files.  Then, the criminals emptied their victims' bank accounts.

Richard Guthrie, a 92-year-old Army veteran, was one of those victims.  He ended up on scam artists' lists because his name, like millions of others, was sold by large companies to telemarketing criminals, who then turned to major banks to steal his life's savings.

Mr. Guthrie, who lives in Iowa, had entered a few sweepstakes that caused his name to appear in a database advertised by infoUSA, one of the largest compilers of consumer information.
InfoUSA sold his name, and data on scores of other elderly Americans, to known lawbreakers, regulators say.  InfoUSA advertised lists of "Elderly Opportunity Seekers," 3.3 million older people "looking for ways to make money," and "Suffering Seniors," 4.7 million people with cancer or Alzheimer's disease.  "Oldies but Goodies" contained 500,000 gamblers over 55 years old, for 8.5 cents apiece.  One list said: "These people are gullible.  They want to believe that their luck can change."

After criminals tricked him into revealing his banking information, they went to Wachovia, the nation's fourth-largest bank, and raided his account, according to banking records.

Telemarketing fraud, once limited to small-time thieves, has become a global criminal enterprise preying upon millions of elderly and other Americans every year, authorities say. Vast databases of names and personal information, sold to thieves by large publicly traded companies, have put almost anyone within reach of fraudulent telemarketers. And major banks have made it possible for criminals to dip into victims' accounts without their authorization, according to court records.

The banks and companies that sell such services often confront evidence that they are used for fraud, according to thousands of banking documents, court filings and e-mail messages reviewed by The New York Times. Although some companies, including Wachovia, have made refunds to victims who have complained, neither that bank nor infoUSA stopped working with criminals even after executives were warned that they were aiding continuing crimes, according to government investigators.

In recent years, despite the creation of a national "do not call" registry, the legitimate telemarketing industry has grown, according to the Direct Marketing Association.

Databases of such responses can be profitably sold, often via electronic download, through list brokers like Walter Karl Inc., a division of infoUSA.

InfoUSA sold the Astroluck list dozens of times, to companies including HMS Direct, which Canadian authorities had sued the previous year for deceptive mailings; Westport Enterprises, the subject of consumer complaints in Kansas, Connecticut and Missouri; and Arlimbow, a European company that Swiss authorities were prosecuting at the time for a lottery scam.

Between 2003 and 2005, scam artists submitted at least seven unsigned checks to Wachovia that withdrew funds from Mr. Guthrie's account, according to banking records.  In all, Wachovia accepted $142 million of unsigned checks from companies that made unauthorized withdrawals from thousands of accounts, federal prosecutors say.

In a lawsuit filed last year, the United States attorney in Philadelphia said Wachovia received thousands of warnings that it was processing fraudulent checks, but ignored them.

"Criminals focus on the elderly because they know authorities will blame the victims or seniors will worry about their kids throwing them into nursing homes," said C. Steven Baker, a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission.  "Frequently, the victims are too distracted from dementia or Alzheimer's to figure out something's wrong."
State regulators have tried to protect victims like Mr. Guthrie.  In 2005, attorneys general of 35 states urged the Federal Reserve to end the unsigned check system.  "Such drafts should be eliminated in favor of electronic funds transfers that can serve the same payment function" but are less susceptible to manipulation, they wrote.

Within a few months, Mr. Guthrie's children noticed that he was skipping meals and was behind on bills. By then, all of his savings --- including the proceeds of selling his farm and money set aside to send great-grandchildren to college --- was gone. His children now own his home, and his grandson controls his bank account.   He must ask permission for large or unusual purchases.  And because he can't buy anything, many telemarketers have stopped calling.

"It's lonelier now," he said at his kitchen table, which is crowded with mail.  "I really enjoy when those salespeople call.  But when I tell them I can't buy anything now, they hang up. 
I miss the good chats we used to have."
Read the entire article at: 

Then read InfoUSA's response:
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Other posts on protecting the elderly:

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