Success of do-not-call list gives rise to other opt-outs

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 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 opt out of the standard practice of their banks or loan companies selling information to others. Other opt-outs stop credit-card solicitations or end junk mail.

While most of the opt-outs are intended to make life less annoying, they also can have the side effect of protecting personal information that can be misused by identity thieves or just 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 give customers a chance to opt out of sharing personal information, other kinds of companies do not. Some that inform 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:


To stop them, go to Or call (888) 382-1222, from the number you are going to restrict.

Remember to register if you get a new phone number. You can register cell phone 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.


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 If you want to get more mail, there also is a place to sign up to get on the lists.



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-mails. 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.


Almost as annoying as the direct marketing call is the mailbox stuffed with credit card solicitations. The more you ignore their offers, the more you will receive.

One way to stop the offers is to sign up for so many cards and run up such high levels of debt that you become a credit untouchable. That is not a good plan. Instead, call (888) 567-8688, but be ready to give out some personal information such as your Social Security number.

The major credit bureaus, such as Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, that collect information on your borrowing habits let you opt out of what they call pre-screened offers of credit at www.optoutpre You can do it for a period of five years or permanently.



The ultimate opt-out for your credit is a credit freeze. You'll sometimes hear it recommended as a way to protect yourself from fraud because once you sign up to have your credit report frozen, no company can get access to your credit report without your expressed permission. That means no one can open up a credit card or take out a loan in your name.

Think long and hard before you do this. It sounds great at first, but doing so can backfire. You might be buying an expensive flat-screen TV at a warehouse store and want to get the instant credit card to score another 5 percent discount. You will not be able to. But about half the states have passed laws making credit reporting companies able to quickly unfreeze a report, some in as few as 5 minutes.

Not that preventing the opening of one more store account is a bad thing. Remember that everyone of those cards can hurt your credit score, which determines what your interest rate is when you borrow money.

Use the credit freeze only if you are a true victim of identity theft, which means that some criminal has your personal information and is opening up credit card accounts, borrowing money or buying property with your credit history. Unfreezing credit is an onerous process, although several states have passed laws requiring the credit bureaus to make it easier.

If you suspect you may be a target, but have not been harmed yet, a better form of protection is asking the credit bureaus to flag your report with a fraud alert, which is supposed to make lenders take extra precautions.


Your personal information is accessible in less obvious ways. For instance, your computer tracks where you have visited online. DoubleClick, a company that collects data for online advertisers, offers a way to prevent your computer from giving it information at .


But again, it is only a piecemeal solution. Other online advertising companies will still put "cookies" on your computer to collect the same data. So the next-best solution is to frequently run software that cleans out cookies. You can get Spyware Blaster, Spybot, or Ad-Aware at .

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