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Video: Protecting yourself from scams

TODAY
updated 1/9/2007 11:53:10 AM ET 2007-01-09T16:53:10

Want to stop junk mail and get rid of telemarketers for good? Follow Sid Kirchheimer'a step-by-step instructions from his book "Scam-Proof Your Life."

Here's an excerpt:

Stop Junk Mail & Telemarketers
Just say no. Each year, more than three million Americans discover that credit accounts have been falsely opened in their name; of these, at least 400,000 can blame the crime on stolen mail. But in the space of an hour, you can deter both direct mailers and telemarketers. To decline vulnerable mailings (such as credit-card applications) and put an end to most unwanted phone calls, contact the following:

* Credit Bureaus Opt-Out Line. Call 888-567-8688 (888-5-OPT-OUT) from your home telephone (so it can be checked against an address database) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com to stop preapproved credit-card and insurance offers from reaching you by mail or phone. (The source for these come-ons is lists sold to companies by the credit-reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and the smaller Innovis.) If you call, you’ll get an automated voice- response system that requests your name, telephone number, and Social Security number; don’t worry, they have it already as part of your credit history. Whether you call or go online, you can opt out for five years or permanently; if you choose the latter, you’ll be sent an additional form in the mail that must be mailed back. Your opt-out “vote” goes into effect in about five business days, but do not expect to see a noticeable reduction for roughly one month.

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* Do Not Call List. If you haven’t done so already, by all means register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry, maintained by the FTC. Once you have registered your telephone numbers at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222, most telemarketers are barred from calling you. (They’re subject to steep fines if they do call, so casually ask them to supply some identifying details.) You will still receive calls, however, from any charitable organizations, pollsters, or even commercial companies with which you have “an existing business relationship.”

* List Brokers. Pooling information gleaned from phone books, public records, and other sources, these companies prepare and sell mailing lists to businesses. To remove yourself from all of their lists, you’ll have to contact each one individually. (Preprinted mailing labels to ease the task are available at www.fightidentity theft.com/junkmail_labels.html.) Details on reaching the four largest list brokers appear below.

* Direct Marketing Association. The DMA is a trade group whose 5,200 member companies use the telephone, mail, and the Internet to pitch their products directly to consumers, bypassing such intermediaries as traditional bricks-and-mortar retail outlets. The DMA offers half a dozen ways for you to opt out of receiving solicitations from its members. According to DMA spokesman Louis Mastria, this should stop about 80 percent of such offers within several months. To take him up on his offer, try one or more of the remedies detailed in the sidebar on page 258 (“Junk Mail: None for Me, Thanks!”).

In most states, if you have already signed up on your state’s registry, your telephone number should appear on the national registry as well. Of the 25 states that maintained state registries as of January 2006, 17 had shared their lists with the national registry. If you live in Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, or Wyoming, you may want to add your number to the state registry as well. For a list of state “do-not-call” registries, visit www.ataconnect.org/GovernmentAffairs/StateDoNotCallLists.html. The federal registry is free; some states charge a small fee to delist you. 

Don’t snub those stuffers. The opt-out contacts listed above primarily deal with unsolicited mail and telephone calls from companies you have nothing to do with. But what about stopping the spread of your personal information from companies with which you already do business? Your protection: Once a year, financial institutions are required to inform their customers how they use their personal information, and what opt-out rights those customers have. “The trick is that these notices often come in envelopes stuffed with other correspondence,” notes Eric Gertler, author of the landmark "Prying Eyes: Protect Your Privacy from People Who Sell to You, Snoop on You, and Steal from You." “Because of this, many people unknowingly discard them.” These notices sometimes provide a mailing address (or, more rarely, a phone number or a website address) that permits customers to stop their financial institutions from sharing their personal information with unaffiliated third parties. This is that rare offer you truly should not refuse: Taking them up on it may halt junk mail that originates from totally unsuspected sources.

Even if you don’t take this step, you can always stop the spread of your personal information the good old-fashioned way: Contact your bank, credit-card issuer, or insurer and inform them you are opting out of sharing. As you may have come to suspect by now, that will constitute only a partial solution. Opting out stops a company from supplying your personal information to third-party firms, but that company can go right on furnishing the data to its subsidiaries or affiliates. Gertler, the former CEO of Privista—an identity-theft protection and credit-management company—cites the hypothetical example of a customer who banks with Citibank: “Even if you opt out, your information may be passed to any of Citibank’s affiliate companies, such as its credit-card division or its mortgage component.”

Waive that warranty card. When you buy a new toaster, it’s easy to get burned long before the bread pops up. The source of the tsuris is the warranty card included in the packaging. “Warranty cards are primarily used by the product’s manufacturer to profile you,” explains California identity-theft attorney Mari Frank. “They will then sell that information to others, who in turn send you mailings for their own products and services. That’s why warranty cards so often ask you for your household income, how many kids you have, what your hobbies and interests are. But you should know that unscrupulous employees can easily get their hands on your warranty-card info, then use it to steal your identity.”

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Your protection: Provided you keep the receipt, a product is under warranty for the designated period whether you return the warranty card or not. If you unwisely choose to “register” your purchase with the manufacturer, submit the warranty card bearing nothing more than your name, address, and date of purchase. (If required, enclose a copy of your receipt.) In the same mailing, specify that your personal information is not to be distributed to others. There’s no need to answer any other questions.

A BETTER WAY
Junk Mail: None for Me, Thanks!
Perhaps hoping to upgrade its image as the nation’s leading source of shredder fodder, the Direct Marketing Association has graciously devised all manner of means by which you can just say no. Try one of these:

To stop receiving mailings, go to www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglist and complete the online opt-out form. Then click the “Register Online” button. This is the fastest way of adding your name and address to the DMA’s Mail Preference Service (essentially a “do-not-mail” list), but it costs $5, payable by credit card.

Alternatively—and at no charge other than the cost of a postage stamp—you can complete the online form, then click the “Register by Mail” button instead. A tracking number will be generated for the Mail Preference Service (MPS). You’ll have to print out the completed form, then mail it to the address listed on the form.

If you don’t want to go online, send a post card or letter including your name, address, and signature (and a request to opt out) to: Mail Preference Service Direct Marketing Association P.O. Box 643 Carmel, New York 10512 This option is also free of charge, but it is the slowest; a minimum of two months will be required before your name and address have been added to the MPS opt-out list.

To stop telephone solicitations from DMA members with whom you do not have a current or past business relationship, visit www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offtelephone and complete the opt-out form you will find there. Here again there is a $5 charge to register online, or you can print out the form and mail it in at no charge. You can also send a letter or postcard with your name, address, telephone number (with area code), and signature to: Telephone Preference Service Direct Marketing Association P.O. Box 1559 Carmel, New York 10512.

To reduce e-mail solicitations from DMA members at up to three e-mail addresses, visit www.dmaconsumers.org/consumers/optoutform_emps.shtml. To confirm your submission, the Direct Marketing Association will send an acknowledgment to each address you submit; you must reply to each one within 30 days in order for your registration to take effect.

To remove the names of deceased loved ones from commercial marketing lists, visit https://preference.the-dma.org/cgi/ddnc.php and complete the form you find there. There is a $1 charge to verify your credit-card information.

The “A List” for Getting Delisted
They don’t exactly make it easy for you, but if you send a written request to each list broker below, your tide of junk mail should eventually ebb.

Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, New York  10512

Telephone Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 1559
Carmel, New York  10512

Dun & Bradstreet
Customer Service
899 Eaton Avenue
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania  18025

R. L. Polk & Co. / Name Deletion File
List Compilation Development
26955 Northwestern Highway
Southfield, Michigan  48034-4716

Database America
Compilation Department
470 Chestnut Ridge Road
Woodcliff, New Jersey  07677

Acxiom U.S.
Consumer Advocate Hotline
Phone: 877-774-2094
www.acxiom.com/us

Excerpted from "Scam-Proof Your Life" by Sid Kirchheimer. Copyright © 2006 Sid Kirchheimer. Excerpted by permission of AARP Books/Sterling. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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