Making Money from Your Information: An Overview of Privacy Laws

Online Scams

People must protect themselves from scammers; those who steal personal data from innocent people to make money. They make money in several ways, from getting you to buy things to stealing and selling your information. They do this by getting information from social media accounts, sending fake emails, making phone calls, and hacking computers. The ones that make money through spam email may make the most money. The spammers use “phishing,” or finding ways to get your personal information so it can be sold. Spammers may work for legitimate companies; however, in the United States, they must abide by privacy laws regarding sending spam emails. Each email must contain a link or instructions on how to be removed from their list. If telemarketers or scammers call you on the phone, you can opt out by signing up on the National Do Not Call List, along with blocking the phone number. Since scammers use many different numbers, the only way to stop the calls is by turning off the phone.

Data Brokers

Big Data is one of the fastest growing multi-billion dollar industries. Data Brokers are divided into three categories. Those that focus on searching the Internet for personal information, contact data and data collection, including using social networks. The second group focuses on marketing tools, and the third uses analytics.

Searching the Internet

Researchers comb the Internet for data input by users. This includes any site where a user enters data, such as name, phone number, address, email address, and even social security number. After the data is collected, it is made available to the public. There is usually a fee to get the information. The information collected and made available to the public is lengthy and can be damaging. It can include personal information, employment data, education, marital status, court records, social media profiles, personal affiliations, property records, newspaper articles, photographs, and much more. Popular sites include Spokeo, BeenVerified, PeekYou, TruthFinder, and PeopleSmart.


The second type of data broker focuses on marketing to individuals, based on information collected through various sources. The sources are varied and may include information gathered through Google, social networks, or companies such as subsidiaries of Equifax or Experian, the credit reporting agencies.

Data brokers created profiles based on age, geographic location, family status, ethnicity, income, profession, public records, credit history, etc. Companies may also use information entered into search engines to market to consumers. After the data collection is complete, marketing is tailored to best suit each group.


Lastly, there are data brokers that use analytics to offer risk mitigation products to consumers. This form of data collection is the least bothersome to the average person since it is used mostly to detect fraud.

Security Breaches

Security breaches are in the news on a regular basis. Hackers manage to break into the servers of large companies and organizations and steal their information. Target and Experian are two of the companies recently targeted, and hackers received access to millions of names, addresses, and other private information. These breaches can be devastating to consumers who become victims of identity theft. While companies say digital privacy is a top concern, hackers and other data brokers seem to manage to get the information despite the companies’ best efforts to prevent the occurrences.

The Bottom Line

Aside from identity theft, scammers make the most amount of money from sending spam emails. Email spammers make money in different ways. The spammers purchase lists of names, contact information and email addresses to use as targets. Some spammers send out more than a million emails or text messages per day. Fraudsters that make the most money often create scams that convince people to buy their products. The items rarely, if ever, arrive. Many people forget about small purchases, so the scammer keeps the money. The vast amount of mail sent to victims means that money adds up fast. The most infamous spammers have made millions of dollars before getting caught.

Recent reports show that Internet scammers make more money than drug dealers. Plus, they have less chance of getting caught. Most use email services like Gmail from Google  and fake Internet phone numbers that can’t be traced. Spammers who use specialized tools, charge $700 or more per hour.

Selling Information

Spammers and data brokers also make money by selling personal information. Some spammers steal credit card numbers, bank account information and social security numbers by phishing. They pretend to work for a legitimate company like Apple or a government agency like the Social Security Administration. They send emails with links that take you to a fake website or ask for information such as your username, password or credit card information.

After you click on the link, your computer is automatically infected with spyware or a virus. The spyware or virus is almost impossible to detect, even with professional-grade software. The computer system may have to be reset to original factory settings.

Removing Your Information

Experts say that removing your digital information is almost impossible. There are sites like LifeLock that advertise the ability to remove your information and protect your digital privacy. Online protection becomes increasingly important as the Internet continues to grow and many companies insist on using online services. You can remove most of your information, but it requires deleting social media and email accounts as well as online accounts for the companies with whom you do business.

Protect Yourself

People still trust messages they receive, if they look remotely legitimate. You should act as if every phone call, text message or email you receive could be a scam. Never click on links or fill out forms from your email. Type information into your browser. If you receive any messages that seem like they might be fake, delete them immediately from your phone or computer. Don’t give out personal information to anyone you don’t know. Also, you should update your anti-virus, browser, spyware and malware programs on a routine basis. Lastly, if you receive ongoing calls from a particular company, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Pamela M