An official-looking yellow postcard - being mailed nationally - that offers to help senior citizens save money on their taxes is actually a marketing ploy used by a Texas company to get consumers to reveal personal information.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns that the company, Acc-U-Lead, collects the information from the returned cards and sells it to other businesses looking for leads to sell insurance annuities.
The postcard looks similar to a government notice. It is stamped “2010 Senior Income Tax Update” and “2010 Senior Tax Information.” It is decorated with two American flags, and the return address is National Data Research Center in Dallas. The only disclaimer is a single line in small print that says, “This is not a Government document not affiliated with any government agency.”
A consumer in Ballwin, Mo., who recently received one of the postcards, said it seemed odd “that I would receive a postcard telling me how I could stop paying taxes.”
The postcard seems intentionally misleading. “A company shouldn’t have to rely on trickery to get names, phone numbers, birthdates and other information from consumers,” said Michael Coil, President/CEO BBB of Northern Indiana. “Any sales company that buys information obtained in this way should be ashamed of itself. We appreciate the St. Louis, MO BBB office letting all BBBs know about this postcard before it reaches the seniors in our community.”
Acc-U-Lead has an F grade with the BBB. It has not responded to several complaints from businesses that said the sales leads received from the company were not what they had anticipated.
The Dallas BBB says the company is based in Melissa, Tex., and lists its owner as Ronald Morgan. The BBB says Acc-U-Lead also does business under the names National Data Research Center, Lead Room, United States Senior Service Inc. and USSS.
Acc-U-Lead and National Data Research Center have had a long and sometimes difficult history with state and federal officials. In 1997, the Oregon Division of Insurance issued a cease and desist order demanding that Acc-U-Lead and United States Senior Service “halt illegal insurance sales practices targeting senior citizens” in that state. At that time, the regulatory agency said the company distributed business reply mailers advertising life insurance or Medicare supplement health insurance.
As in the Ballwin, Mo., case, the company asked recipients to complete an accompanying card with personal information and return it. Information on the mailers, the agency said, created the impression that they had come from a U. S. government agency.
Four years later, the U.S. Social Security Administration ordered Acc-U-Lead and several related companies to stop another series of mailings directed at seniors. It also ordered the companies’ founders to pay $200,000 to the Social Security Administration.
That case alleged that Acc-U-Lead and its related companies sent misleading solicitations to seniors designed to obtain sensitive personal information. The companies then would sell the data to private insurance companies and/or agents for up to $16 per lead. Those companies, in turn, would contact the consumers and pitch products such as burial insurance.
In 2003, the Texas attorney general sued Morgan and his State and County Tax Redemption Center for sending solicitations that appeared to be from the Collin, Tex., County tax assessor’s office. The mailings asked for fees from seniors who wanted to file for an “elderly tax freeze.” Such a filing service was free through local tax offices, the attorney general’s office said.
In February 2009, the AARP issued a consumer warning about a similar green postcard mailed by National Data Research Center and Acc-U-Lead, also seeking personal information from seniors. That alert noted that the personal information would be sold to vendors of reverse mortgages.
The postcard sent to the Ballwin consumer does not mention that the information will be sold to a third party. It does provide a “request for information” that says: “Please see that I receive information on new tax legislation that may allow me to stop paying taxes.” The form asks for a signature, phone number, date of birth and spouse’s date of birth. The card includes several misspellings. Acc-U-Lead’s website, 4rmleads.com, is not mentioned on the mailing.
The website, aimed at businesses searching for leads, asks, “Do you want Strong Insurance and Annuity Leads?” The site offers various types of sales leads, including long-term care leads, Medicare supplement leads, funeral and burial insurance leads, and reverse mortgage leads. “In order to fill your sales pipeline, you need to have pre-qualified leads from warm prospects in order to write good business for your carrier,” the site says.
The site also contains a price list for various types of leads. The annuity leads cost between $20 and $25 per lead.
The company did not respond to a BBB request for additional information.
The BBB offers the following tips to consumers receiving unsolicited requests for personal information:
- Be wary of providing personal information to anyone through the mail. That information can be sold and resold to other parties. In some cases, consumers may be contacted repeatedly by people selling a variety of products. The information also could be used to steal your identity.
- Scrutinize carefully any mailing that appears to be from a government agency. Some private companies will use names and language that hide the true nature of their business. Look for any disclaimer, even in the fine print, indicating the mailing is not from a government agency.
- If you have any question about a mailing or other solicitation, Indiana residents can contact the BBB at 800-552-4631 or at www.bbb.org. The BBB also offers Reliability Reports on companies.