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AfriGeneas Genealogy Technology Forum

Don’t Call. Don’t Write. Let Me Be.

By DAMON DARLIN
Published: January 20, 2007

The fears of the direct marketing industry came true. Once a do-not-call list was created, people did register, in droves.

The list was created in 2003, not as a way to protect privacy, but to remove a powerful irritant from the lives of Americans. The Federal Trade Commission, which administers the list, says that more than 137 million phone numbers have been placed on the list by people tired of interruptions during dinner or their favorite TV show.

The popularity of the do-not-call list unleashed a demand for other opt-out lists. A consumer can now opt out of the standard practice of their banks or loan companies selling their information to others. Other opt-outs stop credit card companies from soliciting consumers or end the flow of junk mail and catalogs.

While most of the opt-outs are intended to make life less annoying, they can also have the side effect of protecting personal information that can be misused by identity thieves or unscrupulous merchants.

“Over the years, it has gotten so much easier to opt out,” said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a public interest group that lobbies Congress on privacy issues. “There are still gray areas.”

While financial companies have to provide an opportunity to opt out of sharing personal information, other kinds of companies do not. Some that tell you they will share the information do not offer the option to protect personal information (other than not doing business with the company).

For those who just can’t take it anymore, here is a master list of where you can take control:

PHONE SOLICITATIONS To stop them, go to donotcall.gov. Or call toll free, (888)382-1222, from the number you are going to restrict.

Remember to register if you get a new phone number. You can register cellphone numbers as well. A listing is good for five years, after which you’ll have to repeat the process. But you need not worry about forgetting. You will know when you start receiving sales calls again.

JUNK MAIL You can try to opt out of direct mail solicitations, but it will probably not work very well. A private organization, the Direct Marketing Association, handles that list and not every merchant with pages of hot leads is a rule-abiding member.

If you want to give it a shot anyway, write the association, in care of the Mail Preference Service at P.O. Box 643, Carmel, N.Y. 10512. There is an online form at www.the-dma.org/consumers/offmailinglist.html . If you want to get more mail, there is also a place to sign up to get on the lists.

E-MAIL Whatever you do, do not respond to an unsolicited e-mail message when it gives you the option to opt out of receiving more e-mail. That is a trick used by spammers to confirm they hit a live address. Once that happens, your address goes to a prime list and is sold to other spammers. You may even find legitimate businesses eventually using addresses on that list.

So how do you prevent spam? Unfortunately, other than spam filters, there really is no good way.

You can try to make it harder for spammers to get your address in the first place by never posting your address in public forums. Spammers employ software to scrape the sites of anything with that @ symbol. Instead spell it out in a unique way like “the nameofthiscolumn at nytimes.com.”


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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