[JURIST] Members of the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations [official website] promised to crack down on data brokers who gather private information after hearing testimony Wednesday from a former data broker who told the subcommittee how easily he obtained other people's information. James Rapp, who was forced out of business after he was sued by the Federal Trade Commission [complaint; order; Direct magazine report] and prosecuted for racketeering by Colorado officials, described the technique of "pretexting," or tricking companies into divulging their customers' records. According to his prepared remarks [PDF], Rapp said:
I would teach our employees and clients if they wanted to learn, how to impersonate someone so that the person on the other end of the line would feel either sympathy or pressure, whatever it took for them to release to me the information that I needed. Anyone can impersonate anyone else if they sincerely make an effort, the person or customer service representative on the other end of the line truly wants to help, (most of the time anyway) so I use that to my advantage and convince them that they need to give me certain specific data. This was how I achieved the majority of all my information, for back in the 1980's and early 1990's, the Internet was not that big into personal information.Rapp went on to explain how he would find the credit card records of one committee member and the bank password of another. As expected [JURIST report], other data brokers declined to testify, invoking the Fifth Amendment.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) [official website] said he would push for the full House to vote on the Prevention of Fraudulent Access to Phone Records Act [HR 4943 summary; press release], a bill already approved by the committee that would outlaw pretexting. The subcommittee hearing began Wednesday and continues Thursday [committee materials], with testimony from officials at federal agencies that have used information from data brokers [GAO report]. AP has more.