What is scraping?
Scraping is the practice of factoring brokers obtaining annuitant contact information either by going through court records or buying the information from someone who has already done so, and making contact with these annuitants without a referral or previous business relationship. In short: factoring brokers make cold calls to annuitants in an attempt to convince them to sell their structured settlement or annuity payments for a lump sum.
Why is scraping a problem?
Scraping is a problem because of the way in which the information is being used. The first issue is that an annuitant’s personal information, including name, phone number, social security number, physical address, etc. are being used for business purposes without their consent. The second issue comes from what is done with this information: frequently a factoring broker engaged in the scraping practice won’t just make a single cold call, but many. Scraping opens the door to a flood of what essentially boils down to harassment.
Put the problem another way: do you like the idea of a company or a company’s agent having all of your private personal information for the sole purpose of determining the best way to convince you to unpack your structured settlement or annuity for his or her own benefit? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with directly advertising to annuitants by way of radio, occasional mailing, or even TV or Internet ads – a company has every right to advertise its service. The problem isn’t advertising, the problem is who’s contacting who. For a factoring company or agent to obtain such personal information about an annuitant for the sole purpose of relentlessly contacting this person until he or she gives in to the constant pressure is the ethical dilemma. Annuitants are victims. Is it acceptable to further victimize them through such aggressive sales tactics? We think not. If an annuitant contacts a factoring company out of genuine interest, whether due to advertising or referral, then this is perfectly acceptable. Even calling such an annuitant back to determine whether he or she is still interested is acceptable – but to make contact constantly – that’s the problem, and its root is scraping.
How do I know if I’m being scraped?
Did you just receive a ruling on your structured settlement or annuity? Or, have you received one within the past few months, or maybe even weeks? If you get calls or mailings asking if you’re interested in cashing out your structured settlement or annuity without having sought out those services, then you’ve been scraped. Someone, somewhere, has obtained your personal information and either sold it to companies for sales purposes or they’ve done the research themselves for the same purpose. You’re a sales target. Be prepared for a storm of attention for months or longer.
What can I do about it?
The root of the issue is that an annuitant’s personal information is available for those willing to go through the court records. Interestingly enough, minors can have these records of personal information sealed. This practice is the prerogative of life insurance companies. Perhaps the easiest solution to the scraping problem would for these companies to extend their record sealing protections to adults as well. Obviously there would need to be a compelling reason for such a seal to be put in place, well, here’s the reason: scraping has led to undeniably disturbing levels of annuitant harassment. Is this acceptable in a business whose purpose is to help injured parties? We think not. Since the scraping practice has risen in such prominence, no annuitant is safe from such predatory practices. As a result, we believe this is a very compelling reason to seal not just the records of minors, but of adults as well. We don’t believe victims should be subject to further victimization.
In the event that life insurance companies don’t or can’t act in this way, there are other solutions. First and foremost is litigation. Harassment is unacceptable no matter the form, and is punishable in court. With proper documentation and understanding of the appropriate laws on the books, litigation is a very possible, albeit costly, solution to the scraping problem. StopCashCalls.com has more information on this solution if you or someone you know is interested.
The last solution on the table is one of legislation. The purpose of the legislation would be to protect the personal information of annuitants, effectively bypassing the need for life insurance companies to seal the records of their own accord. Private information should remain so until an annuitant gives permission otherwise. To get such legislation passed, lobbying friendly Congressmen, and there are an encouraging number of them, is the most logical course of action. To this end, Bentzen Financial and other companies have been collecting testimonials, catered to a Congressman’s district, to provide compelling reasons to have such legislation put together. We’re confident that, assuming the industry decides not to self-regulate, that this will help. Naturally, the more industry support the better in terms of getting such measures through any legislative body, either state by state, or in Congress.
A secondary avenue for legislation isn’t a new bill or law outright, but an amendment to an existing law already on the books. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is very clear on what constitutes a violation by way of solicitation. A proposed amendment that would include using court records to obtain information for the purpose of solicitation could very well be worthwhile, especially since the TCPA is already designed to protect consumers from aggressive solicitation. Amendments have already been made to further enhance consumer protections, so this isn’t as far a cry for change as one might initially think.