Business ethics and telemarketing

InfoUSA is a list broker, a company that aggregates personal data and sells it to telemarketers and catalog sales companies. The New York Times reports:

InfoUSA advertised lists of “Elderly Opportunity Seekers,” 3.3 million older people “looking for ways to make money,” and “Suffering Seniors,” 4.7 million people with cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. “Oldies but Goodies” contained 500,000 gamblers over 55 years old, for 8.5 cents apiece. One list said: “These people are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change.”

So InfoUSA actually sells lists of suckers deliberately selected for their gullibility. You might be wondering who buys these lists. Well, the NYT investigated.

InfoUSA sold [one list] dozens of times, to companies including HMS Direct, which Canadian authorities had sued the previous year for deceptive mailings; Westport Enterprises, the subject of consumer complaints in Kansas, Connecticut and Missouri; and Arlimbow, a European company that Swiss authorities were prosecuting at the time for a lottery scam.


Records also indicate that infoUSA sold thousands of other elderly Americans’ names to Windfall Investments after the F.B.I. had accused the company in 2002 of stealing $600,000 from a California woman.

Between 2001 and 2004, infoUSA also sold lists to World Marketing Service, a company that a judge shut down in 2003 for running a lottery scam; to Atlas Marketing, which a court closed in 2006 for selling $86 million of bogus business opportunities; and to Emerald Marketing Enterprises, a Canadian firm that was investigated multiple times but never charged with wrongdoing.

The story goes on to reveal that according to internal e-mails, InfoUSA knew some of their customers were scammy, but continued to sell them lists of sick and/or gullible elderly people to exploit.

Update: InfoUSA have put out a press release giving us their side of the story. My summary: “We’re not selling lists of suckers any more, we sold that part of the business. Plus, the authorities didn’t find us criminally liable, and anyway it was a long time ago.”