State, other government agencies profit by selling lists of citizens


August 21, 1991|By Georgia C. Marudas | Georgia C. Marudas,Evening Sun Staff

Want a list of Maryland men over 6 feet tall and 280 pounds? How about males who have turned 18?

For a price, the information is yours, courtesy of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

The MVA is just one state agency that sells various lists of information about Marylanders and their property to companies and even other government agencies.

In fact, state and other government agencies with information available are major sources for companies that compile huge marketing databases.

These, in turn, are used to develop targeted marketing lists sold to all sorts of businesses, from insurance companies to credit card issuers to mail order catalogs.

The information is also widely sought by public interest groups, planning agencies and other government agencies.

"It's a very important source," says Ray Schultz, editor of DM News, a weekly trade newspaper for the direct marketing industry. "People use these databases for just about everything."

The more sophisticated companies, Schultz says, use the lists to enhance information compiled from other sources.

Ed Burnett of Ed Burnett Consultants Inc., a list compiler that pumps out about 400 million names a year, says that nationally the motor vehicle and drivers license lists are the largest available from state agencies.

Lists of well over 100 million licensed drivers are most valuable for the auxiliary information they provide, such as exact birth dates, Burnett says.

It's just such information that can allow a company to target insurance to 40-year-olds, for instance.

In Maryland, the release of information from state and local agencies is governed by the 21-year-old Maryland Public Information Act.

The basic principle, says Assistant Attorney General Richard Israel, is that all public records, including computer tapes, are available unless specifically excluded.

Among excluded items are adoption and welfare records, personnel files and letters of reference, library circulation records for individual borrowers, individual school records and health records.

"It's a matter of striking a delicate balance between the privacy of citizens and public information," he says.

The MVA compiles lists using its databases of information on 3.3 million licensed drivers and 3.9 million registered vehicles, according to Ned Kodeck, special assistant to the administrator.

That means it can sort lists by race, age, ZIP codes, make of cars, even height and weight, Kodeck says.

The buyer of the list of males over 6 feet and 280 pounds, for instance, was a company that sells clothing for large men.

A regular customer is the Selective Service, which buys lists of 18-year-old males.

And the IRS has purchased lists of all Mercedes owners in Montgomery County.

A major buyer of motor vehicle and licensed driver lists is R.L. Polk of Detroit, known as a publisher of city directories.

Polk also provides marketing strategy services, and uses the lists mainly to devise direct mail campaigns for automotive manufacturers, says Lynn Imus, a senior vice president and general manager of the automotive marketing division.

"The good thing about direct marketing is it's targetable and measurable," he says. "You can measure the result."

In the first six months of this year, the MVA sold 55 lists for a total of $277,900.

MVA lists are sold on a contractual basis, with the buyer outlining the intended use.

Unlike other state agencies, the MVA makes a profit on its list sales.

For private buyers, it charges 5 cents a name in addition to its costs, including computer time, and a $25 application fee. Government agencies pay half that rate.

The Department of Licensing and Regulation sells lists of members of the many occupations it licenses, among them home improvement contractors, real estate agents (about 45,000), barbers, cosmetologists (more than 50,000), professional engineers, plumbers, electricians, architects, accountants, hearing aid dealers and certified interior designers as well as retail credit institutions.

"The most frequent requests are for names and addresses for home improvement contractors and real estate agents," says spokesman Charles A. LaMason, who says the department processes about 500 requests a year.

Lists can be bought as mailing labels, diskettes, computer tapes or listings on a cost basis.

Looking for boat owners? The Department of Natural Resources has just the ticket: a magnetic computer tape of the 185,000-plus boats licensed in Maryland, including the owner's name and address, type of boat, length and hull material.

The price: a steep $1,952. The DNR sells eight or nine of those tapes a year, according to Marilyn Tross of the department's Licensing and Watercraft Registration Services.

She says the buyer often is a group or organization that uses the tape to further sort the information for resale.

The Marine Trades Association of Maryland in Annapolis, for instance, a regular buyer of the DNR tape, sells hundreds of lists each year to businesses such as boat dealers, suppliers and marinas.

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