LAKELAND, Fla. — A Florida woman is blaming the state government for an onslaught of robocalls and direct mail offers –- accusations that come as the Scripps station WFTS in Tampa uncovered that the DMV makes millions by selling Florida drivers' personal information to outside companies, including marketing firms.
WFTS I-Team Investigator Adam Walser obtained records showing the state sold information on Florida drivers and ID cardholders to more than 30 private companies, including marketing firms, bill collectors, insurance companies and data brokers in the business of reselling information.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles raked in more than $77 million for driver and ID cardholder information sales in fiscal 2017.
WFTS wanted to know how much of that money came from marketing firms, but the agency in charge of driver information estimated it would take 154 hours of research and cost nearly $3,000 for the state to give taxpayers an answer.
A Lakeland woman and her sister said they blame DMV sales for an onslaught of recent robocalls and direct mail offers.
Tonia Batson moved from Idaho to Florida last year to live with her twin sister Sonia Arvin, who is now her legal guardian because Batson has an intellectual disability.
“We take her to get an ID because she’s a Medicaid patient,” said Arvin.
Days later, Arvin said Batson started receiving direct mail offers for lawn service, credit cards, cell phones and insurance. She also now receives constant robocalls and salespeople have even started showing up at her door.
“I really don’t understand about credit cards or checkbooks or nothing,” said Batson.
In Idaho, Batson lived in a group home where someone else handled her finances, daily living and healthcare arrangements. She had no digital footprint because she can’t read or write.
That’s why Arvin wanted to know how marketers got Batson’s personal information.
“The only one that had it was the DMV,” said Arvin. “Even if it’s a public record in Florida – if we tell them we want it private, it should be kept private.”
The state opened an investigation into Batson’s case after the I-Team alerted FHSMV officials.
That’s because Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said companies buying data on Floridians are not allowed to use that information for marketing.
The state told the I-Team it has banned data sales to three companies since 2017 for misusing driver and ID cardholder information.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said under the law, it must provide driver information but said federal privacy laws and its own rules limit how outside companies can access Floridian’s personal information.
One of the data brokers accessing Florida DMV information is Arkansas-based marketing firm Acxiom, which has an agreement with the state to buy driver and ID cardholder data for a penny a record.
On its website, Acxiom claims it has collected information from almost every adult in the United States.
“Acxiom provides clients with access to 2.5 billion customers and two-thirds of the world’s population,” states a promotional video on Acxiom’s website, which claims the company has a client list that includes banks, automakers and department stores.
The I-Team contacted Acxiom to find out how they are using information on Florida drivers and ID card holders.
A company spokesperson declined an on-camera interview but emailed a statement:
“Acxiom acquires information from a variety of sources to inform its marketing and commercial products, including Acxiom’s identity verification and fraud prevention products. We maintain all information in strict compliance with state and federal laws. But because sound data governance, including ethical and responsible use of information, is foundational to our business, we go beyond legal compliance to ensure additional transparency and clarity for consumers. To learn more about Acxiom’s products, and the choices consumers have regarding use of their information, please visit Acxiom.com ."
Miami attorney Al Saikali, who advises his clients how to legally and ethically use public data for commercial purposes, said his clients are increasingly using public records laws to obtain information for a cheap price.”
“We’re only going to see this continue over time. Companies are going to continue to seek more data about you,” said Saikali. “Companies are essentially paying for information, for leads, for lead generation.”
Saikali said consumers can limit the number of marketers contacting them by setting up a secondary email account to give government agencies – which is only checked periodically for renewal notices and other important information – and only giving a telephone number to government agencies when it’s absolutely necessary.
A state spokesperson said there’s no way for drivers to opt out if they don’t want their personal information sold, saying in an emailed statement:
“The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles provides public records as legally required, in accordance with federal and state law, and as a necessary function in order for customers to efficiently conduct everyday business. The department has successfully instituted proactive security measures to ensure customer information is protected and any misuse of customer information will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law.”
But the I-Team uncovered Acxiom does provide a way for anyone to request personal information be excluded from the company’s marketing data.