FTC: Consumer Privacy Comments Concerning We Investigate, Inc.--P974806
WE INVESTIGATE, INC.
July 8, 1997
Secretary, Federal Trade Commission
Re: Support of Self Regulation
Dear Mr. Secretary:
In response to the Commission's request for additional comments following the hearing held June 10, 1997, 1 am a licensed private investigator and a regular user of public and non-public records such as credit headers. I support the proposition of self regulation.
The data that we regularly access and use in our reports, to clients has a beneficial use and need in society. It is important that a free flow of information be available to support commerce and our judicial system. It also allows the public, who do not have the resources to manage the problems they are faced with, to defend itself without looking to government for help. Further regulation would create additional barriers to us that saves lives, prevents fraud and brings families together.
Following are some investigative scenarios faced by the public everyday. These are examples of why citizens and others turn to a private investigator for help. These are also examples of why it is so important that citizens retain the right to have access to the free flow of information that we provide:
1.Location of Witness: A person is fatally injured in a traffic accident. There is one witness to the accident who provides a statement to the police. Included in this statement is the person's name, address and phone number. Six months later, the insurance carriers and attorneys are seeking to locate this witness so she can be deposed; however, the witness has moved and left no forwarding address. The families involved are devastated as this witness can provide pivotal information related to this accident. Due to unwarranted privacy concerns, the postal service will no longer provide forwarding address information unless it is for service of process. Also, the California DMV will not provide address information unless it is used for service of process. The only option is to develop a Social Security number for the witness utilizing her name and last known address. After a SSN is identified, the witness is located via a trace of her SSN. Again, this information is only available through the use of credit report headers.
2.Insurance Fraud: A claims adjustor for a major insurance carrier begins to notice odd similarities between two drivers involved in a car accident. Although neither driver admits to knowing each other, the addresses provided by both drivers are mail drops and not legitimate physical addresses. All attempts to question the drivers regarding their valid, physical addresses are met with resistance and "smoke screens", i.e., addresses for relatives and friends are provided. The claims adjustor requests that the investigator attempt to determine if there is a link between the two drivers which would indicate a possibly "staged" accident. By utilizing both drivers' SSNs and tracing these numbers to obtain each drivers' address history, as reported to creditors, the investigator can determine that the subjects have, at times in the past, lived at the same addresses in many different states. This information allows the insurance company to open an investigation for insurance fraud and could potentially lead to the end of an organized ring of perpetrators who stage accidents and collect the proceeds. This address history is not available in any other format other than that obtained via the credit report headers.
3.Collection of Debt. An elderly woman loans $50,000 to a suave acquaintance who convinced her of his financial need. Although the gentleman signed a promissorynote, the woman never thought to request a credit report or obtain any additional identifying information on the man. Needless to say, the acquaintance never even attempts to repay the debt. What will she do now? She lives on a fixed income and the acquaintance has now moved with no forwarding address. The post office's records are closed to her as well as DMV records. Again, with the use of the credit report header, the subject is instantly located and legal proceedings begin in an effort to collect the money for the woman.
These are but a very small sample of ways in which the public and others utilize the free flow of information. We are required to keep the information confidential and maintain a high degree of accuracy in our reports due to law, the courts and the market place. To have the targets of our investigations able to browse around in our inquiries and data, or opt out of the databases that are private and public, would be the death of our industry and freedom. The prevention of wrong doing and protection of fraud are real tests of the use of data. Privacy protection can be managed through our industry's self regulation, uses and distribution. Our industry has stated a willingness and desire to self regulate.
This industry must have an opportunity to self regulate and welcomes the government's help in enforcing the rules through the industry's efforts.
1 ask that you support self regulation and work with the industry to successfully bring about policies and procedures that we can all live with in a free society.
William D. Eden
William D. Eden, CIP