Spokeo, BeenVerified, LexisNexis – How Reliable Are These Information Brokering Services?



(Going into our tenth year now of publication, the Beacon Bulletin will shortly be bringing our readers much more real time information in an updated format. Wait for it!  You’ll see changes in the coming weeks that will lead to a more comprehensive weekly newsletter that will include timely information such as new regulations that will affect us in the immediate future, new field-related gear that will invariably result in better capture of evidence  and all sorts of good stuff like that.  I’m going to start this upgrade with a timely tip on cashless tolls in the NYC area at the bottom of this week’s Beacon Bulletin. Enjoy the read.)

It seems that very time you log on now, there is a new information brokering service that promises to reveal all sorts of private information that will solve your curiosity about your new boyfriend, your nanny or the new boss.

Before you determine the validity and timeliness of the information you receive on these sites, let’s explore how personal information is publicly collected and disseminated.

First, let me dispel the notion that you can get deeply unique identifying data such as full, untruncated Social Security numbers via any public information broker such as Spokeo, BeenVerified, InstantCheckmate, LocatePlus, etc.

That’s because with the introduction of the Grimm-Bliley-Leach Bill in 1995, there are technically only 12 permissible purposes (and a vague No. 13 for Other which basically means the feds) that will allow an investigator or other legal/law/investigative field specialists to obtain this type of private information.

Permissible Purposes
Excerpt from the GLB (Gramm-Leach-Biley Act)Except for the amendments made by subsections (a) and (b), nothing in this title shall be construed to modify, limit, or supersede the operation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and no inference shall be drawn on the basis of the provisions of this title regarding whether information is transaction or experience information under section 603 of such Act.What are permissible purposes?1. Legitimate Business Transaction (FCRA)

1. Consumer initiated.

A business transaction that is initiated by the consumer; or to review an account to determine whether the consumer continues to meet the terms of the account.

2. Collection/Extension of Credit (FCRA)

In connection with a credit transaction involving the consumer on whom the information is to be furnished and involving the extension of credit to, or review or collection of an account of, the consumer. Asset searches may not be used to determine a consumer’s eligibility for insurance, credit, or employment.

3. Employment Purposes (FCRA) 
In connection with a consumer’s employment. Asset searches may not be used to determine a consumer’s eligibility for insurance, credit, or employment.

4. Consumer Insurance (FCRA)

In connection with the underwriting of insurance involving a consumer. Asset searches may not be used to determine a consumer’s eligibility for insurance, credit, or employment.

5. Government License or Benefit (FCRA)

In connection with a determination of the consumer’s eligibility for a license or other benefit granted by a governmental instrumentality required by law to consider an applicant’s financial responsibility or status.

6. Response to a Court Order (FCRA)

In response to the order of a court having jurisdiction to issue such an order, or a subpoena issued in connection with proceedings before a Federal grand jury.

7. Written Instruction by a Consumer (FCRA)

In accordance with the written instructions of a consumer.

8. Investor, Servicer, or Current Insurer (FCRA)

In connection with a valuation of, or an assessment of the credit or prepayment risks associated with an existing credit obligation for a consumer.

9. Child Support Enforcement (FCRA)

In response to a request by the head of a State or local child support enforcement agency (or a State or local government official authorized by the head of such an agency) or to set a child support award.

10. Law Enforcement (FCRA)

For use by any Law Enforcement Agency, or any officer, employee, or agent of such agency in carrying out its official duties with proper authorization.

11. Fraud Detection/Prevention (Non-FCRA)

For use to protect against or prevent actual or potential fraud, unauthorized transactions, claims, or other liability.

12. Civil or Criminal Investigation (FCRA)

13, Other (Official, law enforcement)


As you can see, nowhere in that list is “The desire to know”.  So conclude that the data that you can obtain from info brokers is not deep knowledge or up to the minute.

Information brokering sites like Spokeo, BeenVerified, InstantCheckmate,LocatePlus, etc. collect and then offer – for a fee – publicly available data from such entities as Town, Village or City Clerk offices, local DMVs, tax registrars, utility companies, subscriptions and credit reporting agencies.  Also, lately they have begun to add in social media data such as email addresses and sites to which you are registered (so be careful, SingleSueInSyosset, if you are not).  It takes time for all of this data to process and be attached to the correct person so the lag time to, let;s say, your new address appearing in these public records is generally anywhere from eight to eighteen months and possibly longer.

So if you really need deep information and have a legitimate purpose, hire a recommended private investigator,


Cashless tolling is coming to the Hugh L. Carey and Queens Midtown Tunnels in January, and to all MTA bridges by the end of 2017. That means nobody will have to stop, weave or merge into a different lane at the toll plaza ever again. Since you already have E-ZPass, you can keep paying your tolls as usual. Just take a moment to make sure:

  1. Your E-ZPass tag is mounted properly – so it can be read it and give you a 30–50% discount every time
  2. Your license plate is registered to your E-ZPass account accurately – to make sure you avoid getting toll bills in the mail

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Who Am I Dealing With?? Watching Your Back(ground) Checks.

Lately, we are requested quite often to research the backgrounds of prospective employees, personal and business partners and corporate entities.

With our now internet-enabled reach (not just to locate web-based information but to network with other investigative specialists), we are able to access nationwide data as to the personal, work and credit backgrounds of potential new hires.  We have gained the ability to likewise perform these background search services on a global basis for those seeking new business alliances, products and services.   Today, given the mobility and globalization of people and companies, often the backgrounds of the those with whom we might form potential partnerships are, at best based on hazy anecdotes and very basic, publicly available information.  Unfortunately, these types of non-professionally investigated histories can easily be manipulated, i.e., by net savvy perception managers.  For this, and many other reasons (personal security, access and information verification, to name several) we will always steer people away from the alleged “free” searches available online.  If one is serious about researching a potential employee or partner’s background, get it done right — by an experienced, highly rated private investigator.

Below we outline several types of background searches, their information yield and best applicability situations.

Basic Background Check, Individual:

Primary Uses:  Prospective new hires, subject identification, tenant verification.

Should yield:

  • DOB & Alias Names
  • SSN Verification
  • Address History (20 yr)
  • Address Summaries
  • Others Residing w/Subject
  • Possible Phone #s Associated w Subject (landline/mobile)
  • Email Addresses
  • Nationwide Criminal Profile (Includes State & Nationwide Criminal Databases, National Warrant Databases, Department of Correction Records, Nationwide Sex Offender Check)
  • Property Transactions
  • Civil Judgments, Tax Liens, & Evictions
  • Bankruptcies
  • Registered Vehicles *
  • DL Information *
  • Voter Registrations
  • Hunting & Fishing Permits
  • Professional Licenses
  • Possible Work Affiliations
  • Relatives & Associates

*In available states.

Recommendation: If the new hire will have access to accounting and or client information, we also suggest obtaining a release to conduct a standard asset search.

Comprehensive Background Check, Individual:

Primary Uses:  Prospective partners, major settlement/award cases, potential private care (nannies, housekeepers, home nursing aides…) and personal/business financial services providers (attorneys, accountants, brokers…)

Should yield:

  • All of the above plus :
  • Credit check (obtain authorization)
  • Financial background (to include but not limited to assets, banking information,  involvement in fraud investigations)
  • Professional background (to include but not limited to being a named party in any legal action, professional sanctions, industry rating)
  • Verified (in person/voice) and thorough reference checks

These are basic searches to conduct in the above referenced circumstances.  Of course, no two files will ever be the same and each search should be geared towards individualization.  A good professional investigator will know where to look and when to dig deeper.

As always, stay safe.

How is Your WebFace? Controlling Your Public Image.

Kicking off the new year with a new you?  Just make sure you are in control of your old you – especially online, given the access by billions to your digital information.

We’ve all experienced negative postings online.  Whether it’s that awful office party picture, a scathing review or even serious, defamatory comments.   Several ways to deal with these detrimental posts are:

1. Be upfront. Any potential employer/customer/prospective date with even a smidgen of common sense will Google you the minute they’re serious about hiring, doing business with or dating you. It’s far better to come forward with the disclosure  than wait for them to discover the negative information on their own. Let them know what’s out there, the truth and how you intend to handle it. (This may actually work as a positive for you in that it displays your awareness of online reputation and perception management.)

2. Apologize if necessary. It can be the case that you are wrong.  You made a hasty mistake; an inappropriate tweet about your boss or a co-worker, an arrogant post about what you expect from people you date, even a goofball picture that doesn’t truly represent your best characteristics. A basic tenet of crisis control is, if you have caused the situation, apologize quickly and that will usually immediately lower the temperature of the perceived slight.

3. Get it down. Many people are just now beginning to realize the permanence of the web and how it can create a major branding challenge: once negative information is out there, it’s  difficult to remove. If you’ve created the questionable content (a thoughtless tweet, a tasteless YouTube video) you can delete it and — eventually — it will be removed from the caches of Google and other search engines.  (You can hasten the process by asking Google to remove a page or site from its listings — but only once it’s been taken down). If you don’t control the content, all you can really do is ask the person who does to remove it. This could be polite (a friend who’s posted an inappropriate photo to Facebook will probably oblige you) or not-so-polite (you may need to enlist a lawyer if someone is defaming you and won’t desist).

4. Control your SEO. The best and surest way to overcome negative information that’s plastered on the web? Create your own content and drive the bad stuff down in search engine rankings. No one but your worst enemy will bother to visit Page 20 on a Google search; most readers will stick to the first page or two. Creating a robust social media and online presence guarantees that the top results will be the ones you want people to see. Studies have shown that video, in particular, is prized by Google and will rank highly, so you might want to consider a video blog. Traditional blogs, because their content is updated frequently, are also search-engine-friendly. Creating profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter also helps (they’re frequently at the top of Internet searches), and it also never hurts to get quoted in the media or write articles for various publications (which benefits anyone’s personal brand).

If you stick to the principle that everything you input will be seen by a prospective contact, you should be able to eventually develop enough self filters to avoid undoing your reputation online.  (Conversely, being too close-mouthed will make others think you are insignificant or have things to hide.  Play it real and play it smart.)

Included below is a link to 50 niche search engines you should be aware of; Google isn’t the only search site people use to research your background and credentials.

Our Operatives: Street smart, web savvy.

As always, stay safe.

Related articles

Federal and State FOIA Request Tips & Info.

foia process2

Before submitting a FOIA request, we suggest the following tips to expedite the information return: (We are citing US DOJ regulations.)

1. Research the agency’s website for the information you are seeking. (FOIA requires that federal agencies release certain information automatically, without the need for you to make a request so before you put in the effort to obtain that which is readily and immediately available. check the agency’s site.)

2. Create and submit a pre-printed FOIA request form on your firm’s letterhead.  (There is no specific form that must be used to make a request. The request simply must be in writing, reasonably describe the information you seek, and comply with specific agency requirements. Most federal agencies now accept FOIA requests electronically, including by web form, e-mail or fax.)

3. Follow up in five to six weeks post request submission if you have not received the information sought.  (The time it takes to respond to each request varies depending on the complexity of the request itself and the backlog of requests already pending at the agency. In some circumstances, the agency will be able to respond to the request within the standard time limit established by the FOIA – approximately one month. In other instances more time may be needed before the request can be completed. When an agency requires an extension of time, it will notify you in writing and provide you with an opportunity to modify or limit the scope of your request. Alternatively, you may agree to a different timetable for the processing of your request.)

Obtaining FOIA records (contact information):

For Federal Agency Records: From the Department of Agriculture to the Tennessee Valley Authority to the USPTO:   here.

For State Agency Records: Research the agency’s contact information independently as there is no there is no central state-by-state agency FOIA office registry (given the varying agencies by state) and then avail yourself of the following useful tools:

Happy hunting!

BNI Operatives: Street smart; info savvy.

As always, stay safe.

Municipal ID Cards: Coming Soon To Your City

Oakland ID card

(Our focus in this piece is on the NYC municipal ID card but as there has been no decision yet as to what it will look like, we are representing the ID image with a generic Oakland muni-card ID, [Oakland City ID].  Interestingly, the Oakland IDs are paired with Mastercard.)

A municipal identification card is a form of ID card issued by a municipality, such as a city, rather than a state or federal government.

Under federal law, cities may issue their own identification cards as they see fit, and do not have to consider the immigration or criminal status of an applicant before doing so.  New Haven, Connecticut issued the first municipal ID cards in the United States, the Elm City Resident Card, in 2007.    San Francisco followed suit in 2009 and now, other cities that issue municipal ID cards include Oakland, California,  Asbury Park, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. (DC One Card).   The municipal ID card is intended to help people to access city services and enter city buildings.

Now jumps in NYC’s Mayor DeBlasio who signed the bill authorizing municipal ID cards in July of this year. The cards are supposed to be available early next year, at which point New York will undoubtedly leapfrog New Haven and San Francisco in having the largest municipal ID program in the country.

NYC officials are negotiating with banks, stores, restaurants and cultural institutions to also recognize the municipal ID cards, but have offered few examples where the card would be accepted.  The  January 2015 roll-out of the NYC municipal cards is anticipated to be utilized by 500,000 immigrants of varying legal resident status.

The program will be run by the city’s Human Resources agency. Applications for the card will be available online as well as at enrollments sites around the city, like the public libraries.

Several questions immediately leap to mind:

1. What is the identification verification criteria and process?

2. Will the NYC muni-IDs be valid outside of the metro NYC area? (E.g.: If NYC follows Oakland’s lead and multi-purposes these IDs to serve as pre-paid debit cards, will they be accepted in outer-borough banking facilities?)

3. Will these muni-IDs be linked to benefits? (Medical, personal welfare programs, education…)  If so, ill they be accepted on a federal level as a form of identification?

I believe it is necessary for all people to have access to financial, social and educational programs;  these days, however, security is also a major concern.   NYC’s municipal identification card agenda bears watching.

BNI Operatives: Street smart; info savvy.

As always, stay safe.

How Do Teens Get Their Info? Let’s Ask One. Introducing the Beacon Bulletin, Jr.!

With this special edition, we launch a new feature of the Bulletin –  Beacon Bulletin, Jr.  As important as it is for adults to have accurate sources of current information, it is perhaps doubly so for the younger members of our society in that  they are now beginning to form their viewpoints, gain perspectives and develop core beliefs.  To that end, please welcome our newest and youngest guest writer, Meghan E. Olden.

meghan olden

meghan olden 2


(We couldn’t decide which of the Many Magnificent Looks of Meghan to go with so here are two of our favorites!)

Meghan is a Maryland high school student with the goal of become a professional writer.  Her interests and activities include creative writing, graphics, winter color-guard,  marching band and visual arts.  She lives with her parents and is well protected by her one sibling –  older brother, Eric,  and enjoys the loyal company of her faithful, lovable family dog, Lizzy.

We realize that many of our readers are parents or guardians of children.  (For the purpose of this article, we are focusing on teenagers.) Given the rapid  information site turnover rate in Tech Age 5.0, and the incredible amount of data available to teens today, how and where are they obtaining critical information on which to base their forming perceptions and desire to self-educate?

In Meghan’s own words:
This summer, in wanting to stay healthy, I became more active recently.  I choose an old favorite for exercise – biking.

One of my recent bike rides found me back at my elementary school from which I had graduated 5 years ago.   I eventually found myself sitting on top of the monkey bars of the deserted playground that I had not stepped foot in since I’d moved on to high school. The overwhelming silence brought about reflection after I realized how different it felt. What so long ago felt gigantic – the high bars and enormous space – were now almost too small to fit me.  I was suddenly aware of how much I’d changed since the last time I’d been sitting there and how much more, well, opinionated, I had become.  In elementary school, I, like most children, just accepted what we were taught or had overheard/witnessed in our homes and school environments as gospel.  Young children often parrot their relatives and or friend’s parents without question and with very little understanding of the words/thoughts that they are rote repeating.  (As an example, my five y.o. cousin was recently playing in my living room, with the tv on in the background.  A brief clip of President Obama speaking aired and without lifting his head from his car toy, he called out, “O’Poo-poo head”.   I asked him why he called the President this name and he shrugged his shoulders.  I asked him why he thought that the President should be called this name.  He said he didn’t know. Obviously, he’d heard this comment at home, school, at a friend’s home…)  I know I’m guilty of simply repeating things I’ve heard from others without question but that afternoon, sitting on those now seemingly tiny monkey bars, it occurred to me to question more.  Having advanced to high school, I’m finding myself in the right environment to begin researching interests on my own and from there, develop my own opinions.

High school is a hot bed of differing ideas being brought forth, exchanged, and debated. It’s the time when people my age begin to question what they observe and begin to affirm their beliefs.    In recent years, I’ve started to ask questions. I’ve begun to look at different perspectives, opinions and views. Being exposed to different ideas can be a very enlightening experience. But I also recommend starting with a neutral perspective.  I learned this from watching the same YouTube video two years apart. The first time, I came in with a “this person is completely wrong, I’m sure of it.” view, and I walked away at the end,  quite offended. The second time, it was with a “let’s see what they have to say” attitude and I came out of it thinking, “Hey, they actually have some valid points!”.

This also led me to thinking, we – people my age – have to learn how to find a mix of sources of information so that we can view things from different angles and determine for ourselves our beliefs and positions on important issues.  In a few short years, I will be voting. I should be as informed as possible on what is going on around me, the country, the world… as possible.

To that end, I recommend the following informational sources for teens, and well, just about anyone:

Politics:   http://www.ontheissues.org/default.htm. provides an unbiased presentation of many political leaders and their views on different topics, as well as information on upcoming presidential candidates.

News: http://www.alternet.org

Health and Medicine: http://www.sciencedaily.com/news/health_medicine/ and http://www.mentalhealth.gov/ has you covered. for the blues or anything else like that that may be on your mind.

(Or if you were looking for more of a daily life and nutrition kind of site and less technical there’s http://dailyhealthpost.com/)

Technology:  http://mobile.extremetech.com/?origref=#/latest

Personal safety: The Beacon Bulletin, of course! and (unbiased!)   http://www.ncpc.org/topics/violent-crime-and-personal-safety

– Meghan Olden

Thank you, Meghan, for this well thought-out and presented piece on a teen’s perspective on information gathering and the importance of forming one’s own opinions based on accurate research.    You have a brilliant writing future ahead of you.

(We will be returning to our usual format in next week’s Bulletin with the Jr. edition publishing in timely episodes.)

BNI Operatives: Street smart; info savvy (at all ages!)

As always, stay safe.