When searching for your name online, a top hit may lead you to the website MyLife. The site claims it has more than 300 million public pages with information on “almost everyone in America” and that it gathers data from public sources to create biographical reports that include personal information such as address, date of birth and criminal history. The data is then used to generate what the website calls a “reputation score,” which ranges from 0 to 5.
MyLife ads seem to suggest that a poor score could cost someone a job with statements like “Did you ever send out your resume and never hear back?” and “A bad reputation can hurt you personally and professionally.”
As of June 2019, the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau said they’ve received nearly 30,000 complaints from consumers combined. Of those, 6,800 were received by the BBB in an 11-month span from 2018-2019.
According to the BBB, it investigated MyLife’s business practices last May, “prompted by significant complaint activity involving consumers alleging that they requested the removal of personal information from MyLife.com, but are either refused or asked to pay to have the information removed.”
Steve McFarland, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles & Silicon Valley, said consumers have complained to the BBB that the website uses scare tactics to gain paid subscribers.
“They see a potential criminal record file,” McFarland told ABC News, “and they’re alarmed by it.”
"They see a potential criminal record file ... and they’re alarmed by it."
Some consumers have also complained to the BBB that certain information about them was wrong and that the only way to fix it seemed to be to pay MyLife. “There has been some consumers that have had bad information, they can’t fix it,” McFarland said. “And their reputation is actually being harmed.”
MyLife is currently battling at least four lawsuits, including one from John Bonell of Chicago. Bonell said he came across his MyLife page after entering his name in a Google search.
“I came across this reputation score that had my name and my age and where I lived,” Bonell said. “So I was kind of curious about it and clicked into it.”
Bonell said he found a “slew of misinformation” that he was “extremely uncomfortable with.”
“It said that I had a criminal and arrest records, which I don’t,” Bonell said.
“I wanted to investigate further to see what it could be. And then I eventually got to a paywall, and had to build an account and actually pay the website to see that information,” Bonell said.
He is now part of a proposed class action complaint seeking to represent a group of thousands of consumers, according to his attorney, David Gerbie.
The complaint alleges in part that Bonell could not determine or correct the criminal record information MyLife was disseminating about him without paying the company.
“To be posting incorrect information to sell their product without my permission and also have me be essentially blackmailed in order to fix that misinformation is just horrible,” Bonell said.
"To be posting incorrect information to sell their product without my permission and also have me be essentially blackmailed in order to fix that misinformation is just horrible."
MyLife would not provide comment on pending litigation, but the company told ABC News in a statement: “Publicly available information can have errors” and that “much of the information on [its] site can be corrected for free,” such as religion and income. But this does not include your criminal history.
MyLife has faced legal challenges before these recent lawsuits. In 2015, the company agreed to a court judgment in California following a joint investigation by the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office into alleged false advertising and violations of California’s automatic renewal law.
“They advertised that for free people could find out who was searching for them online,” Adam Radinsky, chief deputy city attorney, Santa Monica, told ABC News. But Radinsky says the site feature wasn’t actually free. California officials alleged in legal documents that consumers had to sign up for a paid membership in order to use the “Who’s Searching For You” service.
“The other problem was that they were signing people up for automatic renewal of their credit card payments without properly disclosing that fact,” Radinsky said.
MyLife paid more than $1 million in fines and customer refunds without admitting wrongdoing. The company told ABC in a statement that it agreed to the judgment “in order to avoid the costs of a lengthy and expensive court process.”
But now some customers are complaining about a different MyLife service -- the reputation score.
An ABC News producer took a look at her profile on MyLife. Her reputation score was a 2.98 out of 5 and her profile indicated court records associated with her name had been found. The producer purchased a seven-day MyLife trial membership to access her full report and see what court records the site was referring to. After she paid, her score instantly rose from a 2.98 to a 3.68.
Gerbie, an attorney with McGuire Law in Chicago representing Bonell and others in the complaint, says his firm has heard similar complaints from other consumers.
“They see these alerts and then they pay money and their score automatically increases,” Gerbie said.
According to MyLife: “Reputation scores are labeled as approximate based on the information we have until the latest full public record is pulled, which sometimes causes scores to recalculate.”
Our producer couldn’t view her detailed report during her trial period or after her seven-day trial rolled over to a paid subscription. She was still unable to locate her report. She then called MyLife, concerned that the site said she had a criminal and court record. After 30 minutes on the phone, the company was unable to produce the report and offered her a refund. MyLife later told ABC News it was a “rare glitch … which has since been fixed.” We checked five days later and confirmed - the report was now there. We checked out the website with someone else to see if that person would experience a similar glitch for a different account. The person didn’t -- the report for that profile came up right away and appeared to be accurate.
But while our producer could now see her report, it still had problems. MyLife said she had a criminal and court record. Yet, when she clicked, the site text read: “Good news, we haven’t found any records in this category involving you.”
Adding to the confusion, our producer’s report also referred to a civil court record she didn’t recognize. Neither the court’s website nor the court clerk could produce a corresponding record. MyLife told ABC News the court record in her report “originates from the courts,” but it “cannot account for what the NY Civil Courts report.” It told ABC News the producer “can post a comment saying that this record is not correct.”
The company has made changes to the website over the last month and ushered in a new feature that allows people to remove their reputation profile for free. In order to remove a profile, the individual must send the website a copy of their photo identification. Removal typically takes 48 hours, according to MyLife.
Bonell says he hopes his lawsuit will lead to changes in how the company does business.
“I personally don’t like the idea of a reputation score,” Bonell said. “If they are going to keep it, it needs to be entirely transparent as to how they reached that number. And I also feel like it has to be free for you to be able to update that information and ensure that that information is accurate.”
How to Protect Your Information
The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to limit the information that businesses, such as MyLife, have access to:
1. Obtain regular copies of your credit report and contact the credit reporting company if you see something that you believe is inaccurate.
2. Limit social media sharing.
3. Close any unused accounts.