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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Junk Mail 101: Identity Theft, Your Name and Personal Data, and the Direct Marketing Association(DMA)

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft is the number one consumer complaint at 39%. It is followed by internet auction, a distant second at only 16%. If it weren’t for the California "Shine the Light Law, SB27, introduced by California Senator, Liz Figueroa, and passed into law on January 1, 2005, ID theft may well have doubled this year.

Personal data loss by brokers of mailing list names and private information has reached the millions of records and, with the recent CitiFinancial incident (3.9 million names and personal data), shows no signs of ending. On an earlier issue, the Ohio Attorney General filed a complaint against DSW Inc., a shoe retailer, for compromising 1.4 million credit card numbers. At least someone is paying attention. The junk mail industry is running scared and has hired three major PR firms and advertising agencies to improve their image.

I went to the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) web site to see what their position on identity theft was. It’s a terse, one-page statement, issued on February 24, 2005, as an answer to Senator Charles Schumer’s (D, NY) press conference on the same day. There’s the typical agreement with Schumer on the identity theft problem with continuing elaboration on what the junk mailers are “supposed” to do to protect your name and personal data against ID theft. Nothing about the central problem of who should be in control.

Steven Levy, technology writer for Newsweek, just posted his answer on MSNBC. "Lost My Secrets? Pay Up, Buddy!” is Levy’s remedy for the recent outbreaks of private information loss. The article puts forth the premise that, if the data brokers compromise our data, they should be made to pay for the damages. He also makes an excellent point which I hope will convince you to click on the title and read his story. You, the victim, could be faced with years, and I cannot emphasize enough the word “years,” of financial vulnerability. The reason is that lost data is still out there for the taking.

You also might want to get a feel for the international outlook on identity theft. Go to Macs BLOG to see how they view this problem on the other side of the world. Mac Haque, who has a jazz-rock fusion band, is in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and he writes about how identity theft is at best a minimum problem today in his country. He continues with pointers on how to stop it, obviously taken from the mistakes we have made in the U.S. It makes very interesting reading with an added benefit that you can listen to top artists such as Billy Joel, Christopher Cross, Dionne Warwick, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones and more.

So, what’s the solution? I have an idea. The DMA sells their list of 5,200+ junk mail member companies and contacts. We can all band together and buy these names for around $23,000 and send each one a letter telling them we want our name and personal data back. Or, we could just ask the DMA to donate the list to our grass roots movement. Whether or not you believe this is a good idea, it is something to think about. Right?

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