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FDIC Consumer News - Winter 1997/1998
|Stopping Unwanted Sales Calls and Mail
How to say please leave me alone to annoying offers of credit cards, insurance and other products or services, some of which may even be frauds
We all enjoy getting cheerful calls and encouraging letters...except when so many of them are unsolicited offers for everything from credit cards to cruises to charitable donations. For many consumers, there are good reasons to open junk mail or listen to a sales pitch over the phone. Its one way to shop from home or find out about potentially good deals on products or services, including a new loan, insurance policy or investment. But other consumers consider many of the unsolicited offers they receive to be an invasion of their privacy and a waste of time a nuisance, not a new opportunity.
Even worse, many consumers have been victimized by mail, e-mail and telephone fraud. Examples: Crooks can steal unsolicited credit card applications from your mail or trash and use them to quietly obtain new credit cards...in your name. Its also possible that some of the unsolicited calls or mail you get from charities (asking for donations) or companies (offering goods, services and even prizes) may really be from swindlers interested only in your cash, check or valuable bank account information. Elsewhere in this newsletter we have warnings about up-front payment scams by phone, fax, mail and Internet, and a brief note about mortgage refund frauds.
Marketers have lots of ways to find out who you are, where you live, and how youre likely to spend your money. These include everything from simple searches of government records (which explains why you might hear from home improvement companies after you buy a house or from baby product firms after the birth of a child) to the purchase of highly sophisticated analyses of demographic information. You cant completely shut yourself off from marketers, but you can limit the amount of mail, Internet e-mails, calls and faxes you get from them if youre so inclined. FDIC Consumer News offers these tips, based in part on some recent developments.
Have your name removed from marketing lists that credit bureaus provide to creditors and insurers.
As weve previously reported, recent amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act give you the right to be excluded from many unsolicited, unwanted offers of credit or insurance. In general, you have two choices: call a credit bureau to remove your name for two years from marketing lists (called pre-screening lists) credit bureaus sell to creditors and insurers, or complete a written form that removes your name from these lists indefinitely. Just call any one of the following nationwide credit bureaus at these toll-free numbers specially established for opting out of marketing lists: Equifax at (888) 567-8688, Experian at (800) 353-0809, or Trans Union at either (800) 241-2858 or (800) 680-7293.
The new law has limitations. For example, it only enables you to remove your name from pre-screening mailing lists that credit bureaus sell to creditors and insurers. That means a creditor or insurer still can mail you an unsolicited offer if it obtains your name and address from a source other than a credit bureau.
But even when a law or regulation doesnt specifically authorize you to stop a company from sharing information about you with another marketer, many responsible firms will honor such a request. Industries also are turning to self-regulation to try to address certain concerns. For example, four major bank trade associations in September 1997 endorsed the principle that consumers should have the right to prevent a bank from sharing customer information with marketers not affiliated with that bank.
Tell any unwanted telemarketer who call to put your number on their do-not-call list, as is your right under federal rules.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have do-not-call rules. In general, if you instruct the person to stop phoning your home, the solicitor must keep a record of your request and comply with your wishes for 10 years. If the same organization contacts you again, you may want to complain to the FTC, the FCC or your state Attorney General. Under some state laws, you also may be able to file a lawsuit and even collect $500 or more in penalties. The federal do-not-call rules only apply to homes, not businesses, but some states have business-oriented versions.
For more help or information from the FTC, call (202) 326-3761 or (202) 326-2222, write to the FTC Consumer Response Center, Washington, DC 20580, or check the FTCs Internet site (www.ftc.gov). As for the FCC, you may call the Commissions Public Service Division at (202) 418-0200, write to 1919 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20554, or look at the FCCs Internet site (www.fcc.gov). The FCC also has rules that ban unsolicited ads to fax machines. For details about state laws or rules, contact your state Attorney General or consumer affairs office, as listed in your phone book.
Take advantage of Direct Marketing Association (DMA) programs that can help reduce unsolicited mail and calls.
The DMA is a professional association of 3,600 financial services firms, catalogue companies and other marketers. You can register with two free services from the DMA one that tells marketers you dont want to receive their general mailings (letters to prospective customers) for five years, and the other that allows you to remove your name from phone call lists for five years. Agreeing with your wishes is now voluntary for DMA members, but recently the association decided to make compliance mandatory by July 1999.
To stop receiving unsolicited mail, write to: DMA Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008. To stop receiving telemarketing calls, write to: DMA Telephone Preference Service, P.O. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014. Even companies that arent DMA members have access to these lists. If there are only certain DMA members you dont want to hear from or you dont want sharing information about you, call or write their customer service departments. Complying with those wishes also will become a requirement for DMA members in 1999. For more information, write to: DMA, 1111 19th Street, NW, Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20036, or visit its Internet site (www.the-dma.org).
Dont give out personal information you wouldnt want shared with businesses, charities or strangers.
One of the best ways to keep your name from being added to marketing lists to begin with is to never give personal information to people or businesses who ask for it unless you know and approve of how that information will be used. Examples of personal information that can be especially valuable to marketers include your income, the products or stores you like, and how much you typically spend on purchases.
Consumers, for example, should be wary of entering drawings, joining membership clubs at stores, providing information at certain Internet sites, or even including their income or other personal details on warranty cards for new products, says Alan Cox, a consumer affairs specialist also with the FDICs Division of Compliance and Consumer Affairs. Many consumers dont realize that these companies will turn around and sell or rent this information to other marketers.
And as weve reported many times, never tell anyone your Social Security number, credit card number, passwords, PIN (personal identification number) for your automated teller machine card or similar confidential information over the telephone unless you originate the call to someone you know is legitimate. Crooks can easily use this information to commit a fraud.
Consider your options for stopping unwanted e-mail.
Advertisements delivered to personal computers and other unsolicited e-mail commonly called "junk - email," "bulk e-mail" or even "spam" are becoming extremely common. Why? Its very cheap for advertisers to send millions of e-mail messages at one time, so some are inclined to do this irresponsibly, says Cynthia Bonnette, a technology expert in the FDICs Division of Supervision in Washington. While some of these messages are from legitimate marketers, many are not.
Several proposals are pending in Congress to address problems with unsolicited e-mail. Currently, however, your options are limited. Ask your Internet service provider about free or low-cost software that might be able to block some unsolicited e-mail. If you receive a suspicious e-mail or one from anyone else you dont want to have contact with again, one option is to e-mail back with a please stop request. However, that sometimes can lead to even more unsolicited e-mail. My suggestion is to delete these messages and not even respond to them, says Angel Rivera, an Internet security specialist in the FDICs Division of Information Resources Management. Beware that some junk e-mailers want you to respond simply because that confirms the validity of your e-mail address, which can then be sold to others who will send you junk e-mail.
Contact the appropriate government agency if you have a problem with a marketer.
Lets say a bank, thrift or credit union continues to send you credit card solicitations even after you asked it to stop. Or, you get a call from a bank about a great interest rate on a deposit but you dont know if the bank, or its offer, is legitimate. The FDIC and other banking regulators listed in this newsletter might be able to help solve the problem. The FDICs Division of Compliance and Consumer Affairs in particular can tell you whether a bank or thrift is federally insured and can give you the name of the institutions primary regulator (which may or may not be the FDIC) if you want to pursue the matter.
If a bank is violating a law that a regulatory agency is authorized to enforce, the regulator should take action to correct the problem, says Kathy Nagle, a senior consumer affairs specialist in the FDICs Division of Compliance and Consumer Affairs, in Washington. If theres no law governing a particular situation, or if the agency has no enforcement authority, sometimes theres nothing we can do, but sometimes we can bring the problem to the attention of the right person at the bank and help solve the problem that way.
If youve been the target of a scam or otherwise treated unfairly by a non-banking company, consider contacting the Federal Trade Commission, your local consumer protection agency or the state Attorney Generals office. The FTC in particular is interested in finding out about deceptive or fraudulent schemes over the Internet. Also, for cases of fraud, you might also want to call the National Fraud Information Center (NFIC) at (800) 876-7060 or go to its Internet site at www.fraud.org. The NFIC is a project of the National Consumers League in Washington and it will forward reports of suspected crimes to federal and state authorities.
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