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Internet Bank Mass Mailing Used MIT's Trademark Illegally

By Carina Fung
Staff Reporter

On Jan. 22, a mass-mailing of brochures with an illegal header advertising "MIT Internet Banking" went out to a large number of MITstudents from the Security First Network Bank through a company called On-Campus Marketing.

Neither Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Glenn P. Strehle, the Bursar's Office, nor the Registrar's Office knew of any MIT involvement with the bank or the mailing, said Senior Associate Dean Robert M. Randolph, who also knew nothing about the situation.

The odd thing about the the mailings from the "World's First Internet Bank," as it calls itself in its brochures, is that they were mailed to addresses that included students' room numbers, Randolph said. By contrast, most mass-mailings from outside of MIT are made only to the street address of a student's dormitory or living group.

Alarm was raised over how the bank and On-Campus Marketing were able to get students' addresses without administrators' knowledge; there was also concern about the header on the brochure, "MIT Internet Banking," since MIT never endorsed the bank or otherwise allowed the Institute's name to be used, Randolph said.

Using MIT'sname on the brochure's header was unlawful, said Director of Insurance and Legal Affairs Thomas R. Henneberry. "A cease-and-desist letter has been sent to the banking company, and one will be sent to On-Campus Marketing by Jean B. Weidemier, counsel and technology licensing officer," he said.

But "there's not a lot that we can do," Henneberry said. "There are already court rulings against such things as accessing a telephone book to find addresses for mass-mailings," but this kind of illicit access "is something we just can't stop." Henneberry said he will continue to investigate the matter.

Mailing lists obtained from ASL

The bank apparently contracted On-Campus Marketing to help them "spread the word and get their name out" in the now very Internet-centered college society, said John Philpott, a Security First employee.

Philpott claimed that Devon Shain, an On-Campus Marketing representative who handled the bank's contract, was responsible for the header "MIT Internet Banking," and was the source of the mailing list. Shain could not be reached for comment.

The bank used On-Campus Marketing to "initiate a marketing effort, since Internet banking is one of many products and services attractive to college students because many college students are provided with free connections to the Internet," Philpott said.

On-Campus Marketing routinely buys lists of student addresses from American Student Lists, a company "well known throughout the college market," said Matthew Steere, another On-Campus Marketing representative.

American Student Lists has lists of home and school addresses of college students, sorted by year and by major. This is a very common and very legal process, according to Steere, who was unaware that the header "MIT Internet Banking" had appeared on the brochures.

Lists used to sell many products

On-Campus Marketing uses their mailing lists for a variety of marketing programs, like selling diploma frames, Steere said. Mailings are always "explicit to say that the product, for example a diploma frame, is made to fit the MITdiploma, but is not in any way endorsed by MIT," he said.

Security First supplied On-Campus Marketing with the copy and the information to be contained in the advertisement letter and brochure, but On-Campus Marketing put the design and layout together, Philpott said. The bank had nothing to do with the header containing the MIT trademark, he said.

MITwas not referred to in any part of the brochure other than the header.

"Lists for several colleges and a list of computer majors were purchased by On-Campus Marketing, to implement in this advertisement campaign," Philpott said.

Net banks may pose security risk

The brochure mailed to students said that the bank is "the first Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-insured bank operating completely on the Internet with transactions protected by military grade security."

The brochure states that if a person has a Social Security Number then they can have a Security First account. This method of banking is "completely free," the brochure advertised.

With a Security First account, a customer receives the following services at no charge, according to the brochure: daily reconciled bank statements and checkbook register, no minimum balance, 20 free electronic bill payments per month, ATM transactions at Honor and Cirrus machines, 200 free paper checks, plenty of pre-stamped deposit envelopes, FDIC insurance of accounts, and wire fund transfers.

The brochure then goes on with instructions on how to open a Security First account over the Internet, and includes the web site address, http://www.sfnb.com.

"Internet banking is equally secure to a normal banking system," said Matthew K. Gray '97, a member of the Student Information Processing Board. If the customer is careful, just as normal banking customers are warned not to leave ATM receipts around, then "there are no real security holes" with Internet banking, Gray said.