|Internet security experts have warned New Jersey Lottery players signing up for a VIP service that they could be at risk of identity theft. The premium service offers discounts, bonus games and daily e-mails of winning numbers, but the questions asked during the online signup process go beyond what is usually necessary, experts say. |
About 77,000 lottery customers signed up for the service and supplied detailed personal information that experts say should be kept private to prevent identity theft. The lottery's Web site requires people to give a name, postal address and e-mail address. Users are also told disclose their gender and mother's maiden name – and that is what worries the security experts.
'No matter how hard I think about it, it's tough to come up with an excuse for why that information should be required,' said Lauren Weinstein, founder and moderator of the Privacy Forum advocacy group.
'The people who design these forms don't even think of this stuff. It doesn't occur to them that the combination of both birth date and mother's maiden name is something you should never disclose,' Weinstein said. 'They've asked all the key questions there except `What's your Social Security number?''
Lottery sales in New Jersey topped $1.5 billion in 1997, with the state treasury receiving a cut of $650 million. By 2001, that figure had grown to $2.07 billion in sales, a gain attributed to giant jackpots offered by the multistate Big Game. Of that, $750 million went to the state.
Lottery officials insist that the premium service, which has been operational for about a year, is designed to add value for customers. It will not be used for direct marketing programs and the information will not be disclosed to outside agencies, said Linda Melone, deputy director of marketing.
'Right now we are really kind of using it as a way of building our customer base and serving our players,' Melone said.
She likened the lottery service to ones offered by department stores and credit card companies, where certain customers get coupons and advance word of sales or promotions.
But the premium service offered on the Web site could become a troubling trend, both for the security concern and the sign that government services aren't equally available to everyone, experts said.
Consumers should make sure such sites offer clear privacy warnings, and hold the government to the letter of the law, said Robert Ellis Smith, publisher of Privacy Journal. Customers, however, often just click past such statements.
'I'm afraid that's true. Most consumers skip past all privacy policies because they were written by lawyers and they are obtuse. The point is, once they are posted they are binding,' Smith said.