This is a quick blog post to warn anyone who comes across the people-search service, named Spokeo. I want to warn you about their deceptive business practices. I was bitten by it, so maybe you will be wise enough to Google first before paying them.
The Premise Of The Scam
This service seems to be popping up quite a lot when you attempt to search for background information on someone. I was recently helping a friend to do a quick background search on their new partner (following my previous blog post.) That's when I came across the service called Spokeo.
They must have been doing an aggressive marketing campaign, since they had quite an extensive presence in the search engines, had a somewhat decent website and even had a YouTube channel dedicated to praising themselves on what they are doing.
But don't be fooled by all this. Spokeo is just another personal data scraper or a content aggregator. They scrape public sources on the web (such as court and municipal records), collect people information and later sell it to whoever is willing to pay.
In most cases I wouldn't mind paying for such service that aggregates information and saves me time. What makes it very insidious is when such service uses deception to elicit money from people who pay for it once.
Search & Pay Strategy
When I went to the Spokeo website and conducted a search, the site eventually showed that it found "a lot of information" on the person of interest, but to see any of it I needed to pay $0.95. This wasn't much, definitely less than what PeopleFinder and Intelius were charging, so I decided to try.
Please note that I do not endorse PeopleFinder or Intelius. I tried their services too. And even though they do not seem to engage in the same shady stuff like Spokeo, the information they retrieved for me was less than enough to justify paying $10 for it.
As a side note, notice that most of these shady websites espouse a practice of slow searches, when they pretend that it takes them a long time to collect information (when in reality it takes mere seconds to retrieve it.) This is a marketing ploy, designed to keep you waiting while showing you that they "search" in multiple locations and, more importantly, retrieve a ton of information on your subject.
In the end, they always show that they found many points of data, but to see it, you need to make a "small payment".
After I finally got to the Spokeo payment page I chose to pay via PayPal. I've known about these deceptive practices, so there's no way in hell I would give them my actual credit card.
When the payment was processed via PayPal, I was able to "unlock" the search results. And unlike their marketing show that they played for me before I made the payment (with "multiple results found"), the actual results that I received after the payment contained very little usable information. Moreover, most of it was incorrect.
What was also dangerous was that after the search, but before I paid, the Spekeo website showed that my person of interest had "several possible court records". Note the word "possible". I did other searches and nowhere else I was able to find those court records.
An obvious ploy here is to make you pay to see those "court records".
In my view, this should be illegal, as just a mere mentioning of "possible court records" could be grounds for a false conviction by whoever is using the Spokeo website.
Then, the cherry on top was when I tried to see most important results, the ones that I came there for: such as court records, previous convictions, marriages and bankruptcies. The Spokeo site demanded that I sign up for their $24.95-per-month subscription to see those.
In other words, that service was a complete garbage. I closed the web browser window, brushed off the loss of my $0.95, and vowed not to go there ever again.
Some time later, aside from having marked several of their unsolicited marketing emails as spam in my inbox, I completely forgot about Spokeo. But then I was reminded of them after I received a notification from PayPal, and a notice from my bank app, that my credit card was charged $24.95 for the Spokeo subscription service.
I'm sure what keeps this shady company in business is that if I read all their fine print when I was making the initial $0.95 payment, it would have mentioned somewhere that I am also signing up to pay $24.95/mo. But how many of us read that fine print?
So now I have to go to PayPal to try to reverse that payment. Which is an obvious conclusion when you deal with these "gray zone" services like Spokeo, or other personal data scrapers & content aggregators.
So be warned if you are considering to do the same.
As a conclusion I want to advise anyone who decides to pay for any of the similar "gray zone" services, such as Spokeo and others. Read the fine print carefully before you click "Pay". Or better yet, don't do it at all.
Also keep in mind that you can often collect the same information if you just search yourself. It may take a little bit longer, and you may need to narrow down the search to the area where the person lives. But quite often, if you go to the person's local court or municipal website, you can pull up public arrest and court cases for free. It just takes a little bit longer to find it.