Government Technology

Service Helps Keep Your Story Straight

July 21, 2005 By

At a time when consumers' personal information appears to be stored in a glass house with a revolving door, MyPublicInfo of Arlington, Va., is offering consumers with a tool that lets them know what information has been collected about them, who they might be confused with and what they can do about it.

MyPublicInfo has launched a service it is calling the Public Information Profile to help consumers protect their identities.

For a fee, the company will provide a detailed report listing such things as name, date of birth, current and prior residences, appraised value and tax paid on property owned by an individual, court records and business license information. All the data MyPublicInfo collects is retrieved from publicly available records from official federal, state and local government sources as well as top-tier data brokers.

According to the company, the service will allow consumers to view public records connected to their name and find out information is accessible to others when performing a broad background check. The service also allows consumers to spot possible cases of identity theft, including impersonation of identity to buy or rent a house, receive a business license or engage other illegal activity.

"The average consumer is acutely aware of the explosion in identity theft over the past few years, and the dramatically rising dangers in this brave new world of interconnected, real-time information transfer. Today identity thieves have so many more opportunities that can easily wreak havoc on victims' financial well being. Placing fraud alerts on Credit Reports is not enough anymore," according to Dr. Harold Kraft, CEO of MyPublicInfo. "The PIP offers consumers an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand report containing public records and public domain information gathered from an aggregated database of billions of records."

MyPublicInfo has adopted several security measures that ensure the person requesting the report is who they say they are and the report doesn't fall into the wrong hands. For instance, once someone registers with MyPublicInfo and requests a username, he or she is asked a series of five questions someone other than the person requesting the report wouldn't be able to answer -- questions like 'Which of a list of five people doesn't the person know?' and 'Which of these telephone numbers hasn't a person had?' In the addition, the company says the service is compliant with all applicable federal legislation.

As an added security measure, after the report has been generated, if someone tries to log in and view someone else's report and doesn't enter the right username and password combination, the system locks that username, preventing access to anyone -- including the owner of the profile -- for six months.

Lastly, after the report has been generated, it is only available for six months, after which time it is deleted from MyPublicInfo's database. The profile will be deleted sooner upon request by the customer. And if, after viewing the user wants to keep a copy of the report, he or she can print one out.

In addition, if a person is too young or hasn't entered into many transactions such as buying a car or car insurance, renting or buying a house or doesn't have many credit cards, then the service will return a message telling the user that there are too few data sources to compile a profile. That can be reassuring -- there's a chance the person's identity hasn't been misappropriated. Furthermore, if a user discovers what appears to be a mistake in his or her records, MyPublicInfo includes links to information on what he or she can do to correct the mistake. The company even says its service complies with

On the other hand, MyPublicInfo may just be another ChoicePoint or LexisNexis data spill waiting to happen. After all, the company provides consumers with the same information which other data brokers provide to potential landlords or employers during background checks. That means numerous pieces of information which together paint a suprisingly intricate picture of a person's life are compiled in yet another potentially vulnerable repository no matter how hardened its security may be.

The $79.95 price tag for a single report might buy you a little piece of mind. However, the completeness of the picture this reporter saw with a brief glimpse of a Personal Information Profile left him thinking that disintegration of data and Draconian data-protection legislation may still be the best policy.

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