Susan was just invited to a baby shower. She decides to use a coupon she received in the mail to purchase a package of diapers for her lifelong friend, Megan. Three weeks later Susan starts to receive a steady stream of coupons for things like baby formula and diapers. Being a good friend, she gives these coupons to Megan who loves the discounted prices on products she will soon need. Finally, Megan has her baby. Two days later, Megan receives a phone call offering her discounted prices for additional life insurance for herself, her husband and even her new baby. Megan wonders, “How did you find out I had a baby?”
A year later, Megan’s father-in-law passes away. Within days, lawyers are calling offering to represent her in probate court. Megan thinks, “How did they know my father passed away?” Feeling violated in this time of sorrow, Megan gets angry and shouts, “Quit calling me! Take me off your list and just stop calling me!” Less than a week later, Megan gets a call from a political party promising to stop unsolicited telephone calls, emails and junk mail.
Is this realistic? Completely. The technological advances we have experienced in the past decade alone have changed the fundamental method by which commercial businesses reach the consumer base. Information databases exist placing you, your life and your spending habits in a category where other companies may then purchase these databases for their own use. In fact, there are numerous companies whose only task is to collect your data to be sold to commercial businesses wanting to sell you what they believe you need.
This often intrusive method of getting your attention is legal if the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 is followed. However, these popular legislations give a false sense of security because advertising, promoters and businesses know how to stay within the limits of the law and still reach you and your private information. There are many ways your private information is made public for companies to purchase.
If you have ever visited a website, and agreed to be put on a mailing list, you are choosing to give your information to a company. Have you ever received a survey with the promises of coupons and free items to be sent to you if you mail in information about your household? If you have, chances are good you have just given your personal information and spending habits to an information database. Opt-in mailings are a popular method of receiving your personal information. The ironic part is that you are freely giving your information to one company for one purpose, but many companies may choose to sell, trade, or give your information to other companies or to a database collector. For the most part, this is completely legal.
The majority of opt-in mailing either offline or online have an opt-out option where you can contact a company, email address, mailing address, or telephone number where you can ask to be removed from the database. However, if your information has already spread to other databases, removing yourself from the opt-in mailing may be considerably more time-consuming that when you chose to opt-in.
Obituaries, Marriage and Birth Records
Many data gathering companies choose to use the useful newspaper in your local area to find potential consumers needing specific services or goods. If there is a birth announcement, the new parents may find they all of a sudden receive unsolicited telephone calls and mailings associated to new parents and child-care merchandise. If there is a marriage announcement, the newly married couple may find they all of a sudden receive unsolicited telephone calls and mailings associated with merchandise and services often found needed by newlyweds. A considerable amount of information about you can be gleaned simply by browsing the local newspaper on a regular basis.
Culling Court Documents and/or Judicial Proceeding Announcements
How many people have been contacted for bail bondsman service or affordable attorneys just after or even while still incarcerated? Yes, when you get arrested, your name will be placed in the local newspaper. Database gatherers will cull the person information necessary to mail, email, or otherwise contact you regarding services you may just need. A quick look in an updated telephone database or telephone directory will reveal your current telephone number and physical or mailing address.
What other information can be gathered by simply searching very public records?
Genealogy can provide a wealth of information on people alive and deceased. Ideally, only family members would be looking for this information, but the stark reality is that anyone can obtain this information easily and without a lot of effort. Genealogy is on the rise with the addition of the internet added into the fray. However, just as you can find information, those database and information gatherers will be able to obtain the same information.
Real estate records, criminal records, credit records, and even automobile records can be easily obtained for little or no money. You may believe your information is completely private, but even your Social Security Number can be gathered with relative ease. A simple visit to a local courthouse is capable of providing your entire history to anyone wanting to investigate you, your past, and your present.
Analyzing Census Data
Do you receive mailings once a week filled with local coupons and advertisements? Have you ever received coupons you absolutely loved without even knowing for sure where those coupons came from? Chances are you receive advertising ranging from direct mailings to television commercials based on your general statistics. The census of information gathered for your residential location may be utilized to target specific advertising or promotions directly to you based on your gender, age, socio-economic status, and even your vehicle.
The census will also tell of past spending habits for people in the census group you fit into or around. Then, advertising and promotions can be geared towards you with the greatest chances of success. However, this is not where this ends!
When you actually use the advertisement or promotion the next time you shop, you are actually adding to the database for your gender, your age, your socio-economic status, and more importantly, your location. The coupons often have a barcode somewhere on the coupon. When you use this coupon, the company or advertiser is learning that, yes, you will use those specific types of coupons, and that, yes, you would probably like more.
Consequently, you have used one coupon with a sort of tracking device, so now you are fair game to receive other such coupons fitting the same category. This is how Susan from our example above kept receiving coupons for baby goods – she used them once, so now the advertisers have her in a database for individuals purchasing baby products. If Susan needed diapers, she should also need diaper wipes and formula, right?
Make it Stop!
As anyone can account for getting junk mail, SPAM, unsolicited phone calls, or other intrusive advertisements is commonplace. Nonetheless, not everyone appreciates the intrusion on one’s privacy – and sometimes sanity. You do have rights!
You can tell any unsolicited caller to not call you back. Better yet, to not contact you in any form. Best still, to remove you from their contact lists. By law, these companies must abide by your wishes. Nonetheless, those people calling do not always make it easy to remove yourself from those contact lists. You may feel you have to jump through hoops between calling other telephone numbers, talking to supervisors, or even mailing in a request. Emails are required to contain an opt-out link in the body of the message, but even then you may have to wait 2-4 weeks for your name to be removed. Then you may discover it takes more than one click of that opt-out link to work. Sometimes, the easiest way to deal with SPAM is to simply click your email clients SPAM button. The National Do Not Call Registry did offer the promise of “no more unwanted telephone calls from unsolicited sources”, and the first 5-years of this trial program has been successful. You can register your telephone number for free, and by law, telemarketers do respect your wishes.
If you are tired of receiving those “pre-approved”, “guaranteed”, and/or “limited time” credit cards, you do have options. These can be intrusive and bothersome, but they can also be extremely detrimental to your credit rating. Dial 1-888-567-8688 (or 1-888-5 OPT OUT) 24-hours a day, and all the credit agencies Experian, Trans Union, Innovis and Equifax will remove you from the mass consumer lists where you will be categorized to receive appropriate credit based offers.
Chances are good you, your loved ones, newborn children, and even deceased family members have received unsolicited advertisements and promotions. While some of these may be welcomed, after a while, you may be left feeling violated. Even if you are being hounded by bill collectors, you do have rights! Make those harassing telephone calls, letters and emails stop.
Remember – You do have rights!