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Classes Challenge Internet ‘Investigators’

By JOE HARRIS

CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) – In two class actions on the frontier of Internet law, people claim that Intelius and Digimedia dba Peoplefinder work as private investigators in Missouri without state certification.
Intelius, based in Bellevue, Wash., offers its services through its website intelious.com.
Named plaintiff Michael Brown claims Intelius says its investigations can get information about crimes threatened or committed against the United States; the identity, credibility, habits, business, integrity, credibility, trustworthiness, loyalty, movements, affiliations, and reputation of certain individuals; and information on a person’s address, phone number history, social media history, criminal record, family and financial history.
Brown says Intelius is working as a private investigator without a license.
In the second class action, filed by the same law firm, lead plaintiff Thuy Nguyen makes the same accusation against Digimedia.com dba Peoplefinder.com
“At no pertinent time has defendant ever held a license [to] engage in private investigator business in the State of Missouri, nor has it ever held a license to engage in business in the State of Missouri as a private investigator agency,” Brown says in his complaint in St. Louis County Court. “Moreover, defendant has never applied for any such licenses.
“At no pertinent time have any of defendant’s employees ever been licensed pursuant to RMSo § 324.1104 to engage in private investigator business in the state of Missouri.
“At all pertinent times, defendant’s failure to hold the license(s) … was information that a reasonable consumer would consider important in deciding whether to hire defendant for the purpose of having the defendant or its employees engage in private investigator business.”
The class consists of all Missourians who have bought private investigations from Feb. 1, 2010 to final judgment. The law requiring such a license was passed in 2007, but Brown’s attorney, Michael Kruse, said the state finally got the mechanisms to enforce the law on Feb. 1, 2010.
“We were concerned with the value customers are getting in light of the licensing statue,” Kruse told Courthouse News.
“They have a right to comply with the law. There is a reason why the state of Missouri felt it needed such controls and companies can’t be above the law through their business model using the Internet.”
The classes seek an injunction, rescission of contracts, restitution and actual and punitive damages for breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation by omission, and violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.
Kruse practices for the law firm Onder, Shelton, O’Leary & Peterson in St. Louis.
Kruse filed the nearly identical class action against Digimedia.com dba Peoplefinder.com.
Kruse said he does not expect his firm to file any more class actions against private investigation companies.
“We were looking at several different companies and those two were the most major violators,” Kruse said. 

Courthouse News Service

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