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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Junk Mail Conspiracy

Conspiracy theories are hard to define, much less prove. You almost have to be a certified wacko or a CIA operative to come up with one. I am neither. But, you don’t have to be James Bond to recognize the web of intrigue that the junk mail industry carefully and thoroughly weaves around the place you live and work each day. I know. I worked there 35 years as a list broker selling your name and personal information.

And you don’t have to be a catalog junkie to have a junk mail dossier. You can buy a home, enter a sweepstakes, take a trip to the Caribbean, purchase insurance, get your film developed, or a number of other simple and seemingly innocent endeavors. That’s right. Each, in itself, is enough to start your personal data file, but the more, the better. Through the use of only your name and address, the data compilers attach unlimited entries of private information to this record of your life. Beyond that, just think of what your Social Security number can produce.

Why should you care, other than the invasion of your privacy? Try this: your moniker and private data is worth a fortune to junk mailers who sell it over and over and over. The take is more than $4 billion annually and climbing. Wouldn’t you like to feel secure in your privacy, while sharing in those proceeds? There are several ways this could happen, and that’s what The Dunning Letter is all about. But, I need your comments to let me know what you think about this concept.

Together, we can pass federal legislation that will give all of us 100% control over our names and personal data. The timing couldn’t be better. The ChoicePoint and LexisNexis incidents opened the door; over 450,000 data thefts, including Social Security numbers. Bank of America widened the gap, possibly even slamming the door against the wall, losing 1.2 million federal employee records, among them three prominent U.S. Senators. Ralph Lauren brings up the rear with 180,000 credit-card holders whose data was apparently stolen.

Accidents happen, but I draw the line when it’s my Social Security number being put conveniently in the hands of thieves. In October of 2000, Roger Moore was astonished to find out his bank, Credit Suisse, had accidentally posted his personal data on the internet. It consisted of an address, Swiss bank account numbers and detailed credit reports. Credit Suisse had to be alerted by a Swiss newspaper to correct the problem.

Where does it stop? The junk mailers and the data brokers, and even some members of Congress, are saying the individual should be responsible for watching over their personal data. So, if the monkey’s on our back, shouldn’t we have 100% control? The right to say when and if our name and private information is sold? And when it is, to reap at least some of the rewards?

Help me out here. Let’s start a grass-roots effort to make this right. Give me your thoughts and I will pass them along to members of Congress who are favorable to consumer causes. I’m not going to ask you to demonstrate at the White House—at least not yet—but to make a stand on this issue by posting your comments, will go a long way. Now, officially, the forum is open.