FTC sues data broker over consumer info sold to scammers

AP News
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Posted: Dec 23, 2014 4:44 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a first-of-a-kind case, the Federal Trade Commission is targeting a data broker for allegedly selling sensitive consumer information — including bank account numbers — to marketers that authorities said the broker knew had no legitimate need for it.

In its complaint, the commission charges that Arizona-based LeapLab bought the payday loan applications of people strapped for money and then sold that data to third-parties who most often weren't lenders at all. The payday loan applications contained sensitive information such as a consumer's Social Security number, bank account number and routing number to the bank. Payday loans are typically small, short-term loans with extremely high interest rates that are effectively advances on a borrower's next paycheck.

"These are the people who can least afford to have their money taken out of their accounts because they needed money in the first place to pay their bills," said James Kohm, associate director of enforcement at the commission.

LeapLab, the commission says, knew some of the third-party marketers were not online lenders and that in many cases unauthorized withdrawals were being made from bank accounts.

At least one of the marketers buying loan application data from LeapLab used the information to withdraw more than $4 million from consumers' bank accounts without authorization, the commission said. Separately, the FTC is suing that company, Ideal Financial Solutions Inc. in Las Vegas.

According to the FTC, Ideal Financial allegedly purchased information on more than two million consumers from data brokers and used it to make millions of dollars in unauthorized debits and charges for financial products that consumers say they never purchased. LeapLab provided account information for at least 16 percent of those consumers.

LeapLab did sell some of its loan application information — about 5 percent — to online lenders, who paid between $10 and $150 per lead on a potential loan, the FTC said. The remaining 95 percent were sold for about 50 cents each to third parties who were not online lenders, the commission said.