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XYZ bosses pay $1.5 million to settle Fed’s loan scam claims

Some of XYZ’s top executives have agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a US Federal Trade Commission lawsuit alleging they “deceptively” harvested vast amounts of personal data on millions of people and sold it “indiscriminately” to third parties including potential scammers and identity thieves.

The FTC says that the execs, through a network of interlinked companies, deceptively collected loan applications through at least 200 web sites, promising to connect the applicant with verified lenders, but instead sold the personal data willy-nilly to the highest bidder through a lead-generation marketplace.

The data was bought by companies that in the vast majority of cases were not in the business of providing loans, the FTC said. The buyers were not checked out by the XYZ execs and exposed consumers to identity theft and fraud, it added.

The allegations cover activities starting in 2012 and carrying on until recently, the FTC said.

“[They] tricked millions of people into giving up sensitive financial information and then sold it to companies that were not making loans,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said in a press release. “The company’s extraction and misuse of this data broke the law in several ways.”

“The FTC’s allegations were wholly without merit,” the defendants’ lawyer, Derek Newman, told DI in an email. “But litigation against the FTC is expensive and resource draining. For that reason, my clients chose to settle the case and move on with their business.”

“In fact, the FTC did not require any changes to my clients’ business practices that they had not already implemented before the case was filed,” he added.

The suit (pdf) named as defendants XYZ.com CEO Daniel Negari, COO Michael Abrose, business development manager Jason Ramin, and general counsel Grant Carpenter. Two other named defendants, Anisha Hancock and Sione Kaufusi, do not appear at first glance to be connected to the domains business.

The settlement (pdf) sees the defendants pay $1.5 million and agree to certain restrictions on their collection and use of data, but they did not admit or deny any liability.

The lead generation business was carried out via at least 17 named companies, including XYZ LLC (which appears to be a different company to the .xyz registry, XYZ.com LLC), Team.xyz LLC and Dev.xyz LLC. The FTC complaint groups them together under the name ITMedia.

Some of the companies are successors to Cyber2Media, the FTC said, a company that in 2011 had to settle a massive typosquatting lawsuit filed by Facebook.

Despite the personnel crossover, nothing in the complaint relates directly to the .xyz domains business, and the only domains listed in the complaint are some pretty nice .coms, including badcreditloans.com, personalloans.com, badcredit.com, fastmoney.com and cashadvance.com.

The complaint alleged deceptive representations and unfair distribution of sensitive information as well as violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It reads:

In numerous instances, Defendants, through ITMedia’s actions, have shared and sold sensitive personal and financial information from consumers’ loan forms — including consumers’ full names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, Social Security numbers, bank routing and account numbers, driver’s license and state identification numbers, income, status and place of employment, military status, homeownership status, and approximate credit scores—without consumers’ knowledge or consent and without regard for whether the recipients are lenders or otherwise had a legitimate need for the information.

Essentially, the complaint alleged that the defendants bullshitted consumers into handing over personal info thinking they were applying for a legitimate loan, when in fact the info was just being harvested for resale to sometimes dodgy buyers.

The complaint reads:

ITMedia’s practice of broadly disseminating consumer information, including to entities that share information with others whose identities and use of the information are unknown to ITMedia, exposes consumers to the risk of substantial harm from identity theft, imposter scams, unauthorized billing, phantom debt collection, and other misuse of the consumers’ information. Some consumers have complained that, shortly after submitting loan applications to ITMedia, they have received communications using the names of ITMedia websites to present sham loan offers or demands for repayment of counterfeit debt.

UPDATE: This article was updated shortly after publication with a statement from XYZ’s lawyer.

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