By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 3:42 am
Back in September at the DEMO conference, public-information company Intelius launched DateCheck, an impish iPhone app that ran an instant background check to tell you if prospective dates had criminal backgrounds or other undesirable qualities. Now DateCheck has a competitor: Intelius rival PeopleFinders is introducing Stud or Dud?, another impish iPhone app that runs instant background checks on prospective dates. Ones that look for criminal records, sex-offender status, address histories, marriage status, property ownership, and more.
By way of introduction to Stud or Dud, a PeopleFinders representative sent me a report on…me. It seemed to say I sometimes go by the name Samuel McCracken (nope–that’s my pop!), had me at an address I haven’t lived at in seventeen years, and listed three phone numbers, none which were current. It had me as single, which is correct, although it was (logically enough) unaware of the relevant fact that I’m engaged. At least it got my age right.
Stud or Dud goes for ninety-nine cents on the App Store, but–like DateCheck–it only provides a little information. (For instance, it’ll tell you if someone has a criminal record, but not what the misdeed in question was.) The basic info serves as a teaser for paid reports, although PeopleFinders doesn’t seem overly anxious to explain there are fees involved: If you request a report, the iPhone app tells you that it’ll send you an e-mail with more details. Then the e-mail sends you to another copy of your report on Stud or Dud’s site.
It’s only when you click on the links in that report that financial matters are raised: The various reports that Stud or Dud sells cost from 95 cents to $49.95. I sprung for two of them: an address history and a property ownership one, at $5.95 apiece.
The address history listed five addresses for Harry “Samuel” McCracken. None were current, one was somewhere I’d never lived, and one was gibberish, apparently fusing a street address I’d lived at (with a typo) with another city I’d lived in at a different time. The property ownership record, meanwhile, didn’t list my current home, which I own. But it did have me down as owning my parents’ house. Which I don’t. And it was missing a third of the information that PeopleFinders claimed the report would include.
The most dismaying part of this whole experience wasn’t the bad (lousy? horrible? worthless?) data that I got for my $11.90. It was the checkout process on PeopleFinders’ site. I skipped a $2 discount offered to me if I agreed to sign up for an identity-theft protection service at $24.95 a month. But after I gave PeopleFinders my credit-card details, it presented me with a $10 CASH BACK offer I’d qualify for if took a “2009 Consumer Credit Survey”–but only mentioned in fine print that I would actually be signing up for a shopping-discount club and agreeing to let PeopleFinders bill $24.95 a month to the credit card I’d just used to buy the address and property reports.
I declined the offer–and then PeopleFinders did it to me again, with a different “Consumer Credit Survey” and $24.95 a month shopping-discount club.
I then went back and checked the Stud or Dud app on the iPhone. It uses GPS to identify the user’s location, and this time, I allowed it to do so rather than pulling up the report which PeopleFinders had sent me. I got a report that had my name, address, and phone number right. But this one didn’t have my age, and didn’t realize that I was the same guy in the other error-prone report.
Lesson? Public records are a less-than-reliable way to dig up information on people. (The only reason I knew that Stud or Dud’s info on me was so shaky was because it was about me; if I used it to check a random stranger, I’d have no inkling whether the data was valid.) And PeopleFinders doesn’t want to sell you a ninety-nine cent app; it wants to sell you background reports for a lot more, although it puts off explaining that as long as possible. And the company would really be happy if you tacked a $300-a-year service onto your $5.95 report in order to save a few bucks.
All of which mostly left me sure of one thing: I’d rather not do business with PeopleFinders again.