Top Ten Consumer Privacy Resolutions
1. Engage in "privacy self defense."Don't share any personal information with businesses unless it is absolutely necessary (for delivery of an item, etc.). Don't give your phone number, address, or name to retail stores. If you do, they can sell that information or use it for telemarketing and junk mail. If they ask for your information, say "it's none of your business," or give "John Doe, 555-1212, 123 Main St." Don't return product warranty cards. Don't complete consumer surveys even if they appear to be anonymous. Profilers can build in barely-perceptible codes that link you to the survey, and this data goes straight to direct marketers.
2. Pay with cash where possible.Electronic transactions leave a detailed dossier of your activities that can be accessed by the government or sold to telemarketers. Paying with cash is one of the best ways to protect privacy and stay out of debt.
3. Install anti-spyware, anti-virus, and firewall software on your computer.If your computer is connected to the Internet, it is a target of malicious viruses and spyware. There are free spyware-scanning utilities available online, and anti-virus software is probably a necessary investment if you own a Windows-based PC. Firewalls keep unwanted people out of your computer and detect when malicious software on your own machine tries to communicate with others.
4. Use a temporary rather than a permanent change of address.If you move in 2005, be sure to forward your mail by using a temporary change of address order rather than a permanent one. The junk mailers have access to the permanent change of address database; they use it to update their lists. By using the temporary change of address, you'll avoid unwanted junk mail.
5. Opt out of prescreened offers of credit.By calling 1-888-567-8688 or by visiting https://www.optoutprescreen.com/, you can stop receiving those annoying letters for credit and insurance offers. This is an important step for protecting your privacy, because those offers can be intercepted by identity thieves.
6. Choose Supermarkets that Don't Use Loyalty Cards.Be loyal to supermarkets that offer discounts without requiring enrollment in a loyalty club. If you have to use a supermarket shopping card, be sure to exchange it with your friends or with strangers.
7. Opt out of financial, insurance, and brokerage information sharing.Be sure to call all of your banks, insurance companies, and brokerage companies and ask to opt out of having your financial information shared. This will cut down on the telemarketing and junk mail that you receive.
8. Request a free copy of your credit report by visiting http://www.annualcreditreport.com.All Americans are now entitled to a free credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. You can engage in a free form of credit monitoring by requesting one of your three reports every four months. By staggering your request, you can check for errors regularly and identify potential problems in your credit report before you lose out on a loan or home purchase. Currently, these reports are available to residents of most western states. By September 2005, all Americans will have free access to their credit report.
9. Enroll all of your phone numbers in the Federal Trade Commission's Do-Not-Call Registry.The Do-Not-Call Registry ( http://www.donotcall.govor 1-888-382-1222) offers a quick and effective shield against unwanted telemarketing. Be sure to enroll the numbers for your wireless phones, too.
10. File a complaint.If you believe a company has violated your privacy, contact the Federal Trade Commission, your state Attorney General, and the Better Business Bureau. Successful investigations improve privacy protections for all consumers.
For more information about privacy, visit the Electronic Privacy Information Center at http://www.epic.org/
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Communications Law and Policy
Jerry Kang and Alan Butler