You know those harassing phone calls you get from companies soliciting your business, like payday loan companies that promise quick money? If you've ever wondered how they got your personal information, you may want to think about some of your Web searches.
Your online searches are being exploited by some companies. Even if you're using a reputable search engine, these payday loan outfits and other predatory companies may be tapping into your searches.
Those vulnerable searches could taking place on Google, although Google specifically prohibits predatory lenders from advertising on its sites. However, these advertisers can sidestep those rules by saying something like they'll help you find sites to apply for loans.
These so-called lead generators then take their victims to websites where you'll be asked for your private information, like your phone number. If you're searching for something like, "I need money fast," these lead generators will spot you, and exploit you.
The worst part is that, if you are searching for fast money, you may be in a desperate situation. So, they're taking advantage of vulnerable people.
As if it's not bad enough that lead generators are taking advantage of you when you're most vulnerable, they quite literally think of you in the worst possible terms. If, for example, you don't make enough money to qualify for a loan, which is about 95% of people applying for them, you're called "remnants" or "suckers."
The Federal Trade Commission is concerned enough about the practices of lead generators that they recently held a workshop with industry leaders about it. Their goal was to identify consumer protection issues at risk by lead generators, which they define this way:
"Lead generation is the practice of identifying or cultivating consumer interest in a product or service, and distributing this information to third parties."
As it turns out, lead generators are difficult for authorities to track down because it involves so many layers, starting with Google, lead generators, lead aggregators, and the companies that end up harassing you. There is good news here, however.
You can protect yourself from being exploited online. To keep yourself protected when you're online, there are safe Web browsers that don't track you like Google does. Check out these three safe sites.