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CHIPS Articles: How did that company get my info?

How did that company get my info?
By Amy Hebert, Consumer Education Specialist, FTC - October 4, 2016
National Cyber Security Awareness Month 2016 is underway! In the spirit of being cyber secure, CHIPS will publish articles from various sources designed to keep our readers cyber safe.

Are you getting calls or emails from a company you’ve never heard of? Wondering how they got your name or number — or how they know what you’re interested in? The reason might be lead generation. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s lead generation?

It’s when companies gather information that people submit, often from online forms or applications. Lead generators sell that information to other companies offering products or services those people might be interested in.

Why should you care?

It’s your information getting collected and sold, and it might pass through a lot of hands along the way.

What’s the upside?

You might find out about products or services you’re interested in, and get deals you wouldn’t have heard about otherwise.

What’s the downside?

Even if you know you’re giving information to a lead generator — like a site that matches people seeking loans with lenders — you might not realize your info could be sold and resold. If it’s sold to anyone willing to pay for it, you might be contacted by all kinds of companies you’ve never heard of.

Sometimes, lead generation also results in deception or outright scams. Last year the FTC sued a company that got people’s information from online payday loan applications, then sold it to non-lenders who raided people’s credit and bank accounts for millions. In another case, a company settled charges that it used fake job ads to get leads for colleges and career training programs.

What can you do?

Before you fill out forms or applications on a site, find out more about the company — on the site itself, and by doing an online search for the company with words like “complaint” or “review.” How will they protect your information? And think long and hard before you give out your SSN or bank or credit card information. In the wrong hands, they can lead to identity theft. If you think information you’ve already shared has been misused, tell the FTC.

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