Despite Intelius Denial, Former Employee Reveals Flood of Irate Complaints

Intelius sells "knowledge'" but claims it didn't know what was obvious to customer service reps.
An Intelius customer service drone didn't need a U.S. Senate hearing to tell him that consumers were furious with the Bellevue-based Internet company's questionable marketing practices. All he needed to do was come to work every day and listen to callers assail him with comments like "fuck you," "you're shit," and "how can you work there?"

So it seems a little far-fetched for Intelius to claim, as it has been doing, that last week's hearing by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation--which accused Intelius, and other companies of misleading consumers into unintended purchases through so-called "post-transaction mareketing"-- had brought "a lot of information to light" that it didn't know before. Yet that's what Intelius Chief Privacy Officer Jim Adler was quoted as saying in a Seattle Times story yesterday.

Naveen Jain, Intelius CEO, has been silent on the current controversy.
"Adler said the company gets few direct complaints from consumers," the story went on, alluding to the fact that the confusing ads on its site were often from partner companies. In fact, hundreds of consumers have filed complaints about Intelius with the state Attorney General's office and the Better Business Bureau, many of which were passed on to the company in an attempt to resolve them. What's more, the customer service department was flooded with calls from irate consumers, according to an employee who worked there for a seven-month stint, ending in the fall of '08.

The employee, interviewed last spring after a SW feature on Intelius, and requesting anonymity because he had signed a non-disclosure agreement, said that in several previous customer service jobs for other companies, maybe 20 percent of the calls amounted to complaints. At Intelius, it was more like 95 percent.

He said the calls concerned Intelius' own products as well as those from partner companies. Some consumers weren't aware that they had signed up for an Intelius service that purported to offer identity theft protection, and charged monthly fees. Others said they had been misled by confusing Web screens into purchasing more information than they wanted. (Intelius provides inexpensive people searches but offers pricier "upgades" like background checks as consumers complete their transactions.)

"I understand you want to call the Attorney General, but there's nothing we can do. We don't give refunds." That was the official line from customer service reps when this employee first arrived, he said. Later, that policy was relaxed, so the reps could offer partial refunds--but only when customers threatened to file a complaint with the Attorney General. A complaint with the Better Business Bureau didn't cut it, he said.

The resulting conflict with callers generated incredible stress, he said. Every morning, he would sit at home for an hour-and-a-half, not moving, just trying to psych himself up for going to work. "It was horrible and the worst thing was knowing you were involved in deceiving people," he said. He left his $13.75-an-hour position and began working as a janitor, which in contrast he called "simple, honest work."

Intelius has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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