Freedom from Telemarketers

Good news. You won't be getting any calls from telemarketers on Sept. 11.

The swell folks at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) have issued the following advisory: "As we approach the first anniversary of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, there has been some debate on what is commercially appropriate on that solemn day.  Bowing to public sensitivities....the DMA is urging its members, in planning their marketing calendars for the coming month, to take into consideration that many Americans may not wish to receive any marketing messages on that day....The DMA is suggesting that its members either refrain from conducting unsolicited email and telephone marketing campaigns on Wednesday, Sept. 11, or conduct those campaigns with the utmost caution and respect on this solemn day of remembrance."

How tasteful. That's the good news. The bad news is that for the remaining 364 days a year, we will be subjected to a farrago of sales pitches that would put P.T.Barnum to shame.

They assault us day and night. Holidays and weekends. Right after we've poured the milk on our cereal, are up to our elbows in soapsuds, under the hood of the car, up a ladder cleaning the gutters, juggling six grocery bags, or just stepping into the shower. Nine times out of ten, if you drop everything to run for the phone, it will be a real estate opportunity from an untraceable number somewhere in the Great Okefenokee Swamp, yet another calling plan with unlimited free minutes after midnight, or a "Please hold for the next available representative."  Sure I will.

And that doesn't include junk mail. Entire forests have been clearcut just to stuff our mailboxes with pre-approved credit cards offers at prime plus 22.9 percent, catalogs for everything from sheets, towels, and comforters to miniature Victorian dollhouses, underwear only appropriate for strippers,  and a ticker tape parade of postcards addressed to "Current Resident."  It all goes straight from the post office to the recycling bin, and it's getting worse, which probably accounts for the continuing escalation of postal rates.

Where do all those unwanted intrusions come from? They originate from the companies that compile your credit report.  The only good thing about having bad credit is that these people will leave you alone.

Trans Union, Equifax and Experian, the three companies that issue consumer credit reports, can also convey that information to "prospective landlords, mortgage lenders, car salesmen, boat and motorcycle dealers, finance and loan companies, banks, savings & loans and credit unions, leasing companies, jewelry, appliance, musical instrument and other retailers that grant credit, home improvement contractors, doctors and dentists, stock brokerages, insurance companies,  and city, county, state, and federal government agencies."

In fact, under Section 604 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a consumer reporting agency may furnish a consumer report not only in response to your written request, but to any "person or entity whom the bureau has reason to believe  intends to use the report in connection with the extension of credit, or the review or collection of an account...(or) otherwise has a legitimate business need for the report in connection with a business transaction involving the consumer."  In other words, almost anybody, including the tinker, the tailor, and the Department of Homeland Security, can access  your credit report.

Here's how to strike back. Contact all three credit reporting agencies at once by calling the Trans Union Opt-Out request line at 1-888-5OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) and getting your name removed from their shared promotional mailings lists.  The call is effective for two years.  To be taken off the lists permanently, you need to put the opt-out request in writing to:

Experian Information Services
P.O. Box 919
Allen, Texas 75013

Equifax Options
P.O. Box 740123
Atlanta, Georgia 30374-0123

Trans Union Corporation
Attn: Marketing Opt-Out
P.O. Box 97328
Jackson, Mississippi 39288-7328

Next, you need to target the mother ship of the home invasion sales fleet, the Direct Marketing Association. Place your name on "Do Not Call" and  "Do Not Mail" lists, by  sending  requests in writing to both the Telephone Preference Service and the Mail Preference Service, c/o Direct Marketing Association, Box 643, Carmel, New York, 10512. This can also be done by phone at 212-768-7277, or online at dmaconsumers.org, under Consumer Help/ Remove Name From Lists. The online service charges $5 for the courtesy.

For more information, contact the Center For A New American Dream (newdream.org), a consumer action group that works in conjunction with The Center For Democracy and Technology, to make it safe for all of us to answer the phone again.

Oh and by the way, you may be interested to learn that every year four people are inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, which puts real names and faces on the world's most annoying individuals.

This year's honorees are Jock Bickert, founder of National Demographics & Lifestyles, a 41-million-name consumer database that generates "highly targeted" mailing lists; Jonah Gitlitz, originator of DMA's Shop-at-Home program; Robert D. "Bob" Kestnbaum, a pioneer in the application of "sophisticated database/interactive marketing technologies"; and Ralph Lane Polk II, whose "revolutionary efforts" transformed the compilation of automobile owner registrations into a "powerful direct marketing tool."

I plan to call them all next Sunday morning at 6am and put them on hold.  You might just want to do the same.

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