GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you have a license or own a vehicle, the odds are good your data has been sold by the state of Michigan.
Through what’s called the Bulk Information Sale Program, the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office sells its records to companies and researchers across the country. But the sales come with a big warning: State and federal laws make it a crime to use the information for sales or marketing.
“Some of the big data aggregators such as LexisNexis use this,” SOS spokesman Fred Woodhams said. “Insurance companies will buy that to verify a person’s driving record.”
Information from the SOS can be sold in small amounts, like for an employer looking to check an employee’s driving record, or in bulk. The entire available database costs $260,000. It can be updated monthly for an additional cost. Among the data available is information about drivers, personal identification card holders, vehicle registrations and titles, watercraft registrations and titles, and snowmobile registrations.
Contracts obtained by Target 8 show it’s not just businesses that are buying the information. Colleges and other state agencies are requesting it for research purposes. Once sold, the data can be resold, but the same restrictions on sales and marketing still apply.
“If you’re a data aggregator your business is getting the data and then selling it to other entities, but the law still applies to that third party,” Woodhams told Target 8. “You can’t use it for marketing purposes. You can’t send out junk mail to people using these lists. That is not approved under state law. It’s not approved under federal law.”
Even with the state making the law very clear, the information does get misused. In 2015, the SOS revoked the contract of National Recall & Data Services for misusing the data. A complaint to the state about a warranty offer prompted the agency to insert dummy accounts into the data it sent out. Each buyer got different information. When another warranty offer came in the mail, the state was able to identify which purchaser was misusing the data. National Recall & Data Services insisted the information didn’t come from it, but the state revoked the agreement and stopped sending the company data.
A complaint in 2017 over a warranty offer led to similar enforcement action against a company called Safety First Recalls. Information sold to Safety First ended up in the database of a company called Nationwide Marketing Services, which sent out warranty offers to Michigan drivers. Nationwide agreed to stop using the data, but pointed out that the same information was also likely shared with two other companies and Nationwide couldn’t prevent those companies from sending out marketing offers. Safety First lost its contract.
It can be hard to tell from where solicitors got your information, but if you believe it was from SOS records, you can file a complaint. Woodhams said the agency takes complaints seriously.
“We make every effort to ensure that all of the recipients are complying with state law. There are very stiff penalties for that, criminal penalties. We will take action against a violator as appropriate,” Woodhams said.
To file a complaint, you can call 888.767.6424 or fill out a form online at the SOS website.