Look Who’s Tracking You

Jun 21, 2006 9:56am

Members of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations turn their attention this week to data brokers, those who convince phone carriers to share clients’ cell phone records and banks their credit card statements.  James Rapp, one of the first data brokers to tesify, developed his special skill while serving time in the Colorado State Penitentiary for auto theft. His fellow prison inmates asked him to track down their former girlfriends and wives from names and old, disconnected phone numbers.  When he got out of prison, Rapp started the "Mile High Investigative Service," providing employment and banking information on individuals to lawyers. Through the years, he moved his business from Colorado to Florida to Utah to Montana and finally back to Colorado.  He also changed its name from "Mile High Investigations" to  "Phantom Investigations" to "Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap" to "Scanners" and finally to "Touch Tone Information." During the 1990s, he had a staff of 20 who worked on-site and five to 15 people who worked out of their homes.  The client list was close to 1,500. When the tabloids wanted to know more about actress Calista Flockhart’s eating disorder, Rapp found a credit card record which showed visits to doctors’ offices.  He got credit card information on John Ramsey and even tracked cell phone and landline contacts for Monica Lewinsky during the Clinton administration scandal. "I would teach our employees how to impersonate someone so that the person on the other end of the line would feel either sympathy or pressure, whatever it took for them to release to me the information that I needed," Rapp said. "The person or customer service representative on the other end of the line usually truly wants to help (most of the time anyway) so I use that to my advantage and convince them that they need to give me certain specific data." Rapp’s testimony comes on the first of two days of hearings on data brokers before the House Subcommittee. 

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