In Pursuit of Privacy: How to "Opt Out" (Part 1)
Thanks to the Federal Trade Commission, the Direct Marketing Association, and the Internet, it has never been this easy to receive—or stop receiving—large quantities of unwanted solicitations and mass-marketing communications: primarily “junk mail”, which ends up in a landfill and ruins our environment. This multi-part report shows you how to get off of numerous mass-marketing lists, such as “junk” mail and cold-calling lists.
First, a brief overview of the Federal Trade Commission’s website and then an in-depth look at how to opt-out of the mailing lists and other products sold by the four major credit reporting bureaus.
The Federal Trade Commission: Protecting America's Consumers
In a few easy steps, you can “opt-out” of receiving unwanted marketing calls, mail without an address, mail for the prior dwellers of your home, mail for the deceased—even email! It all starts with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s Consumer Protection website: the FTC helps to ensure that sharing your personal information is your choice, and it follows up on violators of your preferences that you can report on this website, too.
Note: In this article, I provide access to some of the most important, frequently needed information available through the FTC, but their website offers much more information and detailed assistance than I can provide here, so I encourage you to visit their website to see what all they provide that may make your life as a unique consumer easier. And, if a company does violate an opt-out request that you have made, don’t hesitate to report it on the FTC website—they DO follow up on such things.
The Main Step in Your Efforts to Contain Privacy
The main step is to visit the FTC's consumer website http://www.ftc.gov/privacy/protect.shtm, "Sharing Your Personal Information: It’s Your Choice".
Note: There is also a Spanish-language version of this site at http://www.consumidor.ftc.gov.
Figure 1. "Sharing Your Personal Information: It's Your Choice"
Refer to the FTC website I’ve listed above (English or Spanish-language), as shown in Figure 1.
From this landing page, you can link to a wealth of information about contacting organizations to request that they protect your personal information. We’ll discuss most of them in this article series so you don’t have to go looking for the information all day.
First, Let’s Silence the Credit Bureaus
Click the top of the three main links on the FTC’s website, “Credit Bureaus”. You will be taken to the section on credit bureaus.
The following table presents several ways of requesting that your personal information not be shared by the credit bureaus with others or used for promotional purposes:
Opt Out of All Three Credit Bureaus’ Pre-Approved Credit Offers (Scroll table to the right)
Call one toll-free phone number to opt out of all three credit bureaus’ pre-approved credit offers.
Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688)
Write to each credit bureau…
…write your own letter …or use the FTC’s sample letter (http://www.ftc.gov/privacy/cred-ltr.shtm) and send the letters to:
Options Equifax, Inc. P.O. Box 740123 Atlanta, GA 30374-0123
Experian 901 West Bond Lincoln, NE 68521 Attn: Consumer Services Department
TransUnion Name Removal Option P.O. Box 505 Woodlyn, PA 19094
Free email/online contact forms:
Free contact telephone numbers:
800-829-4577. We are available 8 am - 3 am in the Eastern Timezone, 7 days a week
Potential Scam Alert: The Credit Bureaus Are Trying to Sell You Something
Credit bureaus will try to sell you as many services and “products” as possible, usually playing on your fears of bad credit reports, bad credit scores, or identity theft.
Remember that credit reports received through the U.S. mail (not online) are free from each credit bureau once a year1 or from a particular bureau if you have been denied credit due to content in that bureau’s report. This is important to remember because credit scores are not free.
1 The federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACT Act) ensures this right for all consumers.
Credit scores, unlike credit reports, are never free as far as I can tell. Many advertisements on the credit bureau websites will try to sign you up to receive your “Free credit score” and report online on a monthly or other recurring basis, and will charge you automatically for this ongoing service after the initial “free” (30-day trial) subscription to your reports and scores—which they fail to mention as often as possible.
Be very careful while on a credit bureau site or when viewing an advertisement for credit bureau services. Some of the information these “services” provide is available for free or is unnecessary for the majority of consumers.
Make sure that you know all of the details—including whether or not you really need to know the information—before signing up for such a service. Read all of the fine print before you click on their site’s convenient and innocent-looking buttons, or you could have to pay for unwanted and unneeded services month after month or go through the hassle of cancelling those services.
When was the last time you requested a copy of all of your credit reports and checked them for errors?
Has your identity ever been stolen?
How to Monitor Your Credit History Year-Round for Free if You Are Low-Risk
If you are not buying a house or making any major purchases, and if you have no reason to suspect trouble with your credit, a good way to monitor your credit reports for free year-round is to stagger when you request the free credit reports—request one from each different credit bureau every three months. This works because any really major problems are likely to show up in all four reports, so requesting any one report will provide you that information.
For example, at the beginning of the year, simply write up four letters, one to each bureau, and get them stamped and ready to mail. Put a date on each envelope to indicate when to mail it—I suggest mailing them by alphabetical order because it’s easier to remember. Mail a free credit report request letter to Equifax at the beginning of every January, to Experian at the beginning of each April, and so on. Now you have spread out your free credit reports and still have reasonable assurance that nothing has gone terribly wrong, such as identity theft.
In summary, this report:
- Gave a brief overview of what this series of articles will cover.
- Introduced the Federal Trade Commission’s services.
- Provided specific contact information for the credit bureaus to be removed from their data sales lists.
- Warned about the tempting-looking, but costly and probably unnecessary, offers that the credit bureaus will try to sell you.
- Provided a way of monitoring your credit year-round for free by staggering the dates that you request each credit report throughout the year.
In the Next Section of This Report…
In section 2 of this report, we’ll continue our pursuit for privacy by visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and also the direct marketers.
All text, photos, illustrations, and dividers in this document © Copyright 2013 Laura D. Schneider unless indicated otherwise or in the public domain. All rights reserved.