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FTC Sues Sites Selling Phone Records

Five Internet sites selling confidential phone records became the target of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lawsuits Wednesday.

Seeking permanent injunctions to halt the sale of the phone records and financial redress, the FTC contends the sites violate federal privacy laws.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 states that customers' phone records are their private property and can only be disclosed to the customer or with the approval of the customer.

"Trafficking in consumers' confidential telephone records is outrageous," Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

"It robs consumers of their privacy and exposes them to everything from snoops to stalkers. We intend to put a stop to it."

Named in the suits are: 77 Investigations, Inc., and Reginald Kimbro, based in Upland, Calif.; AccuSearch, Inc. (dba Abika.com), and Jay Patel, based in Cheyenne, Wyoming; and CEO Group, Inc. (dba Check Em Out), and Scott Joseph, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Also named are: Information Search, Inc., and David Kacala, based in Baltimore, Md.; and Integrity Security & Investigation Services, Inc., Edmund L. Edmister, Tracey Edmister, and F. Lynn Moseley, based in Yorktown, Va.

According to the FTC, the defendants advertised on their sites they could obtain the confidential phone records of any individual, including lists of outgoing and incoming calls, and make that information available to their clients for a fee.

"The account holders have not authorized the defendants to obtain access to or sell their confidential customer phone records," the FTC complaints state.

Instead, the FTC claims the sites used false pretenses, fraudulent statements and other misrepresentations to obtain the phone records.

The FTC complaints state that the defendants then sold the records to third parties.

According to the FTC, one of the defendants, Integrity Security & Investigations Services, also advertised, obtained and sold consumers' financial records, including credit card information.

In February, the FTC told Congress it was investigating sites selling confidential phone records by surfing the Web and identifying targets. The FTC then made undercover purchases of phone records.

Congress has also been moving against the online brokers selling phone records.

Last month, the House passed legislation criminalizing the fraudulent sale or solicitation of confidential phone records.

In March, the Senate Commerce Committee passed legislation that makes it illegal to acquire, use or sell a person's confidential phone records without affirmative written consent.