In my prior post, Due Diligence on consumer data brokers, I discussed what you should know before purchasing public records from a consumer personal information data provider. The consumer pay-per-search websites package public record and private sourced data – property ownership, residential addresses, business filings, court records, telephone number listings. The pricing structure is usually not very transparent and the reliability and relevance of the records may be difficult to suss out before you plunk down your $50.
I followed the digital trail – using only free sources – of one data seller to find the identity behind the website and brush away a little of the dust clouding consumer-oriented data brokers.
How To Spot a Legitimate Data Broker
Look at the website. I mean, look at it. Is it an out-of-the-box design or does it have a unique look? I go to the “About Us” link, and that should be well-placed, easily found. Does it tell you about the proprietor or give entity ownership? Compare it to a professional database. For example, Merlindata and Westlaw.
Find a telephone number for customer support and call it. If the number connects to a live human, do they know the product and talk openly about it? Is the pricing structure and termination policy clear? Oftentimes the full cost of a search at a consumer site isn’t revealed until you’re into the signup and purchase process.
The site with the specialty services
My fellow private investigator was lured to a site by the suggestion that it could provide employment income information. There are many types of information that are legal to seek out but are not available through databases. Identifying where someone is employed is pure gumshoe work. The website “Govmarriagerecords (dot) org” lists “income” as one of the “premium search access” results available for a fee plus an automatic monthly charge (until you cancel).
Think about it. What public record would be electronically available that lists personal employment income? Likely none. It might be in a divorce file. But you’d have to go to the courthouse to review that. The salaries and names of employees of government agencies are public records. I’ve compiled links to hundreds of those that are in online databases.
A data broker that suggests you can get on-demand income information is playing with your assumptions. My guess is that the “income” this site provides is the median neighborhood income from the U.S. Census Bureau, which is available for free. You can search by city, town, county, zip code or state.
Guaranteed! Free! Complete!
You shouldn’t have to read the fine print to find out what you’re going to get for your dollars. What does the claim “Guaranteed Instant Results” suggest? There’s no such thing as guaranteed results, so the guarantee must be the “instant.” The cost for searches isn’t mentioned on the Home page or in the Terms of Service. Cost is revealed once you execute a search, and even then it’s not clear what the fee covers.
Follow the Identity Trail
A free search of the domain ownership for “Govmarriagerecords (dot) org” at Domain Tools identified the registrant and the number of other domains registered to the same entity. This site is registered to Information Technology Services Inc., domiciled in Nevada. I checked the Nevada Secretary of State, Business Entity Search for the corporate name and it revealed that one person — Areg Sakanyan – held all the officer positions.
Humm… that can’t be a very common name. I looked up the name using the free portion of the website’s search, which returned one listing, in Massachusetts. Not exactly near Nevada, but many businesses incorporate here even though they don’t operate in the state. Although the domain registration had a Nevada address, the phone number was from elsewhere. I searched the number through fonefinder.com and found that it was in Massachusetts. I plugged the business owner’s name into a search engine. One result piqued my interest because it linked to a media announcement at the website for the Pennsylvania Attorney General. In 2008, the AG filed a civil lawsuit against a Massachusetts man named Areg Sakanyan for “operating a deceptive and misleading” website. That website has since been taken down but you can see archived copies at archive.org. A collection of new domains was registered by him in 2009, including the one profiled in this post. They all begin with “gov” and end in “records.” Sandwiched in between are the types of many other public records.
Few website owners are going to have an Attorney General after them but the shady operator will often have negative consumer reviews at complaintsboard.com, ripoffreport.com or scamchecker.com.
The Terms of Service in the “members” section of the website (different from the “Terms” on the Home page) names two other entities that provide data. One, “Records Authority” is never clarified but is identified as the “public records search services”. The other, InteliGator (dot) com, provides “Premium Search Access.” I could go on but… How confident are you right now that this is a reliable, transparent service?