Feature Article
Mark Pribish
Big Data, Personal Privacy and ID Theft
By Mark Pribish
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader

In 2010, I wrote an article on database marketing and data mining (October 2010 article) and how business and organizations collect and track customer/user information as a marketing strategy by gathering, consolidating, and processing consumer data.

I also wrote how this data is used in sophisticated ways where marketers analyze consumer data to learn more about consumers and select target markets (e.g. demographic segmentation based on age, income, buying habits, etc.) to provide more specialized offerings.

Earlier this month, big data made headline news (see news article) when former National Security Agency (NSA) contract employee Edward Snowden disclosed NSA intelligence-gathering activities.

Based on the news of the NSA surveillance program, consumers appear to be "shocked and surprised" by the collection and use of big data and your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) along with privacy and civil liberty concerns.

However, I am surprised that most consumers do not understand and appreciate how their PII and purchasing habits are constantly being collected, analyzed, shared, stored, tracked and sold (also known as big data) by numerous industry groups including healthcare, insurance, loyalty card programs, retailers, social media, and telecom to third party marketers.

That said, the US Government in general and the NSA in particular share a common practice with most marketing organizations and that is to take a big data approach in intelligence gathering.

So while most consumers are talking and concerned about the NSA, most consumers should also be talking and concerned about how their PII is being collected, analyzed, shared, stored, tracked, and sold.

For example, every time you use a grocery store loyalty card to save money on the price of gas, the grocery store big data objective is to identify your purchasing habits. Your purchasing habits such as alcohol, high sugar foods, high fat foods, and tobacco related products may someday find its way to your current and future healthcare provider and health/life insurance companies.

Another example of "big data working your PII" is when your personal information such as credit and debit card use, emails, internet searches, phone calls, social media posts (e.g. LinkedIn or Facebook), texting - and more - educate and enable organizations and marketers to target you're your every potential purchase.

The most recent big data and ID Theft/Data Breach example is Facebook where Facebook inadvertently exposed 6 million users' phone numbers and email addresses to unauthorized viewers over the past year (see the article here).

So what can be done by businesses/organizations using big data and consumers giving up their PII?

The simple answer is that consumers need to take more responsibility in learning about big data and businesses/organizations need to make sure their privacy policies and disclosures are clearer to consumers.

To begin the process of consumer education, I encourage everyone to read this February 2013 Direct Marketing News article (read article here) on how consumers and watchdogs worry about exactly what data is collected, how it's used, and how consumers are educated about the process--and have an expectation that companies will respect consumers' privacy.


To learn more about these threats and how to protect yourself and your family from Identity Theft, you can read my past newsletters at the Merchants Identity Theft Educational Website at www.idtheftedu.com.

Scam Central

Rental Ruins - When Vacations Become Nightmares!

During the summer months, many leave the hustle and bustle of work and school life to take a well-earned vacation. For many, that involves travelling and staying in hotels in foreign destinations, staying with relatives in another state, or perhaps camping to enjoy nature at its finest. Wherever you decide to go, you just want to get away from the daily grind and have a great experience.

For some, travelling abroad may involve renting a house or timeshare to minimize costly hotel and restaurant bills while still accommodating your needs. After all, a family of five or six might have to pay a small fortune to stay in a hotel for a few weeks, and eating at restaurants daily only adds to the overall costs. Finding a rental house right off the beach or lake with four bedrooms, three baths and a large kitchen may be exactly what your family needs. This is especially true when it may cost a third of what a hotel may cost. However, make sure the rental property is a legitimate deal. A little research up front can make the difference between a great memory and a nightmare experience.

How It Works:

A quick search online reveals numerous opportunities for renting a timeshare house or condominium in Hawaii, Mexico, or anywhere else you may wish to travel. At first glance, the accommodations seem to fit your needs, and the price seems reasonable as well. However, beware. Scammers are cleverly designing online advertisements, complete with pictures of homes, on popular websites like eBay or Craigslist selling fake rental properties or timeshares trying to take advantage of consumers. Sometimes the property itself is real, but it does not belong to the person who is offering to rent it. This could leave a family in a real bind when they show up to occupy the residence and find that somebody lives there and in fact did not rent the property. That family vacation just turned into a nightmare!

Your Defense:

While there are many rental property and timeshare scams out there, there are also many legitimate properties available to interested parties. The challenge is trying to determine which are legitimate and which are not. Here are some helpful questions to ask that may help you avoid a scam this summer and instead enjoy a well-deserved vacation.

  • Is the property managed through a real estate company or through an individual trying to cut out the middleman? While it may cost a bit more, renting through a real estate or other property management company will guarantee the property is legit and give you a reliable source to address complaints, fix damaged property, or perhaps seek a refund if the property does not meet your expectations. You are also less likely to be involved in a scam when dealing with a real estate management company. Even so, still do your homework.
  • Are there any complaints listed with the Better Business Bureau or FTC regarding the property owner or the rental agency? Always check reliable resources to verify that the property in question is not a scam and that there are no complaints against the owner, real estate or property management company handling the exchange of the property.
  • Are there any reviews on the property? Customer reviews are always a good thing. They can tell you if the property is in good shape, if there are any issues with the owners, and the overall experience. Always look for customer reviews. After your vacation, please consider taking time to provide feedback or a review of your experience. The information you leave behind will greatly influence the decisions of future renters.

Make sure you do your homework first or the vacation will quickly become an experience in your life you will wish you could forget. With a little research, that dream vacation your family has been longing to take can become a reality.

If you believe your identity has been stolen, call 866.SMART68 today.