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    New York Times: Fee-Based People Search Site Takes Heat

    The New York Times looks into sites that sell data on people:

    Web sites that charge to provide you with personal information are not held in high esteem by many. A number of them are outright frauds, making money in exchange for information that can easily be found for free, or by taking your money and giving you no information in return.

    But even those that are legitimate come in for their own share of criticism. After I wrote an article and followup blog post about sites that help people find long-lost friends and relatives, one reader took issue with my claim that Intelius was one of the reputable people-finding sites.

    In a Seattle Weekly newspaper article and post on TechCrunch, the founder of Intelius was faulted for unethical dealings, while the site was accused of essentially stealing customers’ money by charging them for services for which they never signed up, and then making it extremely difficult to get a refund. […]

    So is Intelius just another site that preys on the gullibility of consumers and offers little in return for high fees? Not according to Jim Adler, the company’s chief privacy officer.

    Mr. Adler points out that Intelius had 63 customer complaints in February, but it also received 250,000 queries from customers, making the complaints a tiny fraction of its business. “What world do we live in where 99 percent is an F?” he asked. Furthermore, Mr. Adler notes that one of its subsidiaries, U.S. Search, gets an A+ rating for offering essentially the same services as Intelius.

    In the comments to the TechCrunch blog, many customers stated that they received credit card charges for ongoing services that they either did not sign up for intentionally, or were sure that they never purchased. Mr. Adler said that while there was an issue with a related company that advertised on their site, as soon as they found out about the problems last December, they severed the relationship. […]

    In a comparison of two people search sites, Intelius.com and Peoplefinders.com, both offered about the same amount and accuracy of information. But that is not saying much. When looking up the same persons, both sites had different errors but neither ever offered a wealth of information or significantly more than the other.

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