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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Supplement Social Security With Junk Mail? II

Social Security is back in the news again. The administration is grinding the same ax and the Democrats have come up with a luke-warm alternative. Bush, of course, is still pushing individual investment accounts and now the Democrats have unveiled “AmeriSave,” designed, they say, to supplement Social Security. It’s supposed to guarantee benefits, according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

We already know the drawbacks and the projected costs for individual retirement accounts. Now “AmeriSave,” which touts matching dollar-for-dollar for the first $1,000 a worker contributes to an IRA, 401(k) or similar plan, is introduced with no estimate of the cost. If only half of those people turning age 65 this year (approximately 1 million) took advantage of this, the fed’s outlay would be $1 trillion. My figures may not be perfect, but you get the idea.

I have been trying to sell my plan to the Democrats since March of this year when I wrote to Howard Dean, Democratic National Committee Chairman. No response. Zilch. You would think that at least a lowly staffer would eventually get back to me and either say my idea is do-do or we’re thinking about it, or just get lost. My latest attempt is to the Governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, who is also a Democrat. We’ll see.

To get back to the current discussions over Social Security, my concept uses the revenue from the sale of your name and personal data to supplement social security. I covered this in an earlier post: Junk Mail 101: My Solution for Personal Data Loss. Scroll down to the second post. Here’s a review.

Federal legislation would give each junk mail shopper 100% control over the use of their name and private information. We create a system of checks and balances where you make the decisions while also shouldering some of the burden of responsibility. A unique ID similar to a Social Security number in its originality would be assigned. This ID would be used in every junk mail transaction, including unsolicited credit card offers.

The mechanics are in the earlier post, but the point I want to make here is that it should cost the feds and the taxpayers nothing. Nada. Let the junk mailers develop the system and pay for the administrative costs. The selling of your name has been going on for over 50 years with profits in the billions.

In this business, I have personally witnessed advances in technology that, if applied in another direction, could put your name and personal data on the moon, and in a precise location. The junk mail industry can certainly develop a procedure that will process payments of $2 billion a year (from the total take of $4 billion for your name and personal data) and organize it in a way that pays individuals on a sliding scale, similar to Social Security. In other words, you reap in proportion to what you put in.

And now the numbers you’ve all been waiting for. Let’s look at an age 55 retirement first. Start at age 18 with contributions in a simple interest-bearing account (3%) for 38 years until you are fifty-five. The average minimum supplement payment expected is around $265. Some more, some less, of course, based on a sliding scale. Next, retirement at age 65, starting again at age 18 with the same interest rate, but for 48 years. The average minimum payout is $607, more or less.

I say, “average minimum,” above, because it is always best to be conservative with someone else’s money. These figures are based on paying out only that amount each year equal to the amount taken in (the $2 billion plus interest over 38 and 48 years). We are not dipping into the total available, which is $6.4 billion for those age 55 and $8.6 billion for age 65. It also does not consider the fact that we could achieve better results with a higher interest rate (probably around 6%) if the funds were invested with a secure strategy.

So, what’s wrong with this concept? Tell me if you know something I don’t. The numbers are all done in an Excel spreadsheet formula that gives the future value on an investment, based on the input of specific figures. Try it and see if you don’t come up with the same results.

And, I do realize there are several different ways we might go about achieving the same results. As an example, based on the amount of the surplus, payouts could begin as early as 2018, the first projected crisis period for Social Security.

If you agree, help me get the word out and please let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Protecting Your Name and Personal Data in Seattle

I just returned from Seattle where I ran into some great talk radio: the Dave Ross Show on KIRO. Looking for some commentary on junk mail, breaches of personal data or identity theft, I finally landed at 710 on the dial, right in the middle of a discussion on Seattle’s road building and general transportation problems. Now, being from Arizona, you would think I would just keep on surfing, but I didn’t. Dave’s handling of the subject and the quality of responses convinced me to hang around his spot for the nine-day stay.

I was there with my wife, Barbara, who was attending classes in Auburn, for Linda Tellington’s T-TOUCH. This is a form of animal training, involving a method of light touches, administered to address certain issues of the animal, thus, improving behavior and quality of life. It works! Barb is having great success here in Arizona, and plans to complete the first phase of her companion animal training in Auburn, this November.

After returning to Arizona, I decided to e-mail Dave Ross and see how he felt about the concept of consumers having 100% control over their name and personal data. He wrote me back and said he was very interested in the idea of the individual being paid for the use of his or her name and private information. Tina Nole, his Producer, coordinated the rest and we were on-the-air last Wednesday, July 20, at 3 PM.

Following discussions between Dave and me, which covered everything from the necessary exceptions in the federal legislation I am proposing (homeland security, some medical and financial situations), to how the concept is affected by the 1st Amendment (non issue in my book, because consumers should rightfully be able to control something that is this private), Dave then took calls from listeners.

The first was a fellow who worked at the Post Office, worried that this idea would eliminate his job. I explained that the attraction of the royalty to be made from the sale of a person’s name and personal data would no doubt lure some of the 45% of the population that does not yet shop by junk mail and probably serve to retain most of the 55% that does.

Dave asked about what could be expected in a year as payment for selling your name and personal data, which amounts to about $60. The rest of the callers were adamant in their dislike of junk mail and not real sure money would quell this position. I countered with the fact that my concept is a long-range plan, based on sharing one-half of the annual take by junk mailers for selling names and private information in the amount of $4 billion. It could be a supplement to Social Security with $2 billion each year invested for the long haul.

The outcome was good. Seattle got an idea of what is possible, if they join my grass roots effort. Dave Ross told me, on the air, that he felt I have an up-hill battle, and I do. There aren’t many causes that affect so many consumers, as well as the business community, that don’t have a tough fight. I’ve always been a maverick, especially when I know I am right, and this is an issue in which my research also tells me I am right.

I just want to thank Dave Ross and his KIRO staff for realizing the importance of this issue and giving me the time on his top-rated talk show to voice my opinions. LISTEN! Seattle: KIRO Radio, 710 on the dial, the Dave Ross Show, Monday through Friday, 3 to 6 PM.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Junk Mail 101: Warranty Cards, Surveys and Your Personal Data

There have been warnings in recent years about giving too much information to companies on product registration cards—commonly called warranty cards—and consumer surveys. Still, data marches on, and currently there are over 700 junk mail lists on the market covering these two subjects. In the meantime, the poor consumer muddles through what’s legit and what isn’t and ends up becoming just another record in the junk mailers’ databanks.

Re. the warranty cards, we’ve been told we don’t really have to provide all the extras like age, income, children, etc; only your name, address and the serial and model number of the product. By law, we don’t even need to return it because we are covered automatically. For the surveys, our name, address and hundreds of personal facts about ourselves are necessary to receive cents-off coupons or product samples.

The fact that companies are more interested in our private data than protecting us should raise flags and peak our suspicion, but some of us go ahead and supply the information anyway. Well, don’t. And, I’ll tell you why.

But first, you must wonder how I know that so many of us have given up this detailed info. The answer comes from my 35 years’ experience as a mailing list broker. Two junk mail companies alone, have over 90-million individuals’ records on file. They are BehaviorBank, a division of Experian, one of the top three credit reporting companies. The other is Lifestyle Selector, a part of Equifax, also in the top three providing credit reports.

Links above are provided to their sites, but you won’t get information from Behaviorbank about numbers of names, personal data, etc. Only a telephone number. It seems they are not willing to lay out for the consumer what they know about them. However, the Lifestyle Selector site provides a wealth of facts, most of which is compatible with the Behaviorbank list. Trust me. A visit there will blow your mind over exactly what private information we’ve readily given up.

Each processes the data from product registrations and/or surveys into a neat, humongous database that reflects hundreds of personal identification characteristics about how you live each day. Then, they match this with what they already know about you from their demographics and lifestyle databases. The result is 91 million households whose most intimate details read like an open book.

There is one more large company selling product registration information, by the name of WARRANTY IT! Product Registrants. With some 7.2 million of your names, they also sell your age and income. Even Rodale, publishers of Prevention magazine sells its list of warranty card registrants. Their company representative stated they have access to this purchase info from the buyers of products advertised in the magazine.

Read the article from Privacy Rights Clearinghouse covering the California law, passed in 2004, requiring warranty cards to be “up front” with customers. It also confirms my earlier statements on how all this information ends up for sale in the marketplace. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has an excellent report on the profiling of individuals through capturing all their private information and daily lifestyle habits. You can find a piece specific to warranty cards about halfway down the site. This is a must read.

Aside from these companies ignoring our privacy and opening our life to the public and potential identity thieves, we’ve given them carte blanche to sell the treasures of our personal existence. Do you want your health problems, including the prescription drugs you take, available for open review? How about your dress or pants size and the diet you are on? And then there is the frequent traveler who gambles and is also a smoker. Your political views, reading habits, the music you listen to and your investment practices. It’s all out there, ready to be plucked, and sold for astronomical prices.

There is one person who not only agrees with my concept that we should have 100% control over our names and personal data, but he also has his own solution for the problem. Another must read is Kevin Bedell’s blog, Where do Intellectual Property and Personal Information Intersect? He makes some very good points and, although dated back to 2002, it just shows that we’ve been thinking about the nature of this beast for some time. In my case, over ten years.

Let me pose some particularly relevant questions now:

1. Do you have any idea how much of your private data is warehoused by junk mailers?
2. Do you have the slightest concept of the sizeable number of sources available to these companies where they can whisk away your personal information at the drop of a few bucks?
3. Do you know that the junk mailers are taking in $4 billion each and every year on your name and personal data?
4. Should you be more than slightly suspicious over the way junk mailers manipulate your name and storehouse of confidential knowledge and sell it on the open market?
5. Does it make good sense that you should share in the $4 billion made annually from the sale of your name and private information?

I’ll be covering these and hundreds more questions in future blogs.

Finally, in the whole warranty card and consumer survey fiasco, the data gatherers are obviously nervous over the loss of your personal data, especially exact age, which is considered a key factor in some junk mail offers. It is also a prime tool in the committing of identity theft. But, with their circuitous ingenuity, I can assure you the junk mailers will not give up the search for new sources until every public and private record available has been exhausted.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Catching Up With European Privacy Law. NOT!

You have to read the article in the July 4, 2005, Newsweek, titled “Grand Theft Identity.” Along with some excellent pointers to prevent identity theft, including actual case studies, it features one of my favorite people in the fight to control your name and personal data. It’s Beth Givens, founder of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, and you should visit their site often to help you protect your privacy.

So what does the Newsweek piece have to do with European Privacy Law? Just one more example of the huge deficit in this country in the protection against ID theft, and how the Europeans have taken one giant step to stop it there.

On the last page of the article, California Senator Dianne Feinstein states that she “…would like to give consumers the power to keep their records out of databases.” She goes on to indicate “ the opt-in approach is the law in Europe.” That’s the giant step. The European Union may not have been able to decide on a constitution, but they’ve done one hell of a job insuring the privacy of their citizens. It’s like this, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.

The law has been in effect since 1995 and, in ten years, there have been no widespread business losses, as far as I know. In the EU Data Protection Directive, the consumer must be given the choice to opt-out (which is basically opt-in, in reverse) of having business disclose their personal data or, using it for any purpose, other than that for which it was collected.

Further, an organization must give the consumer access to their private information, a stipulation that would probably horrify most junk mailers and data brokers in the U.S. There is no way they would want the American public to know just what and how much personal data has been collected on them. You can see another version of the law at the New England In-House site, a quarterly publication of Lawyers Weekly.

And then there’s the Law Blog from David Sorkin, a law professor in Chicago, who questions the Bush administration in pressuring European regulators to weaken their privacy standards. The President is worried about our financial institutions having difficulty conducting business abroad. I’m worried about our financial institutions having difficulty conducting business, without compromising our personal data, in the U.S. What about you?

Sorkin provides a link for the article: EU asked to tone down privacy standards. The whole idea is an insult to the American consumer and yet another example of how this administration favors business over the individual. Another piece, Congress fears European privacy standards, published just over three weeks earlier, apparently put Bush in motion when Cliff Stearns, R-Fla, called on him to take the matter up with the EU…quickly.

Both articles are dated (March of 2001), but show clear evidence where the Congress and the current administration are headed in protecting you against identity theft. And I say that, despite the recent ChoicePoint, LexisNexis, etc. incidents and the typical Congressional uproar that has resulted . Without pressure from grass roots efforts, Congress is not likely to enact legislation that would give you the giant step: the right to opt-in.

Although I admire the EU for the opt-in step, it still is not enough. We must pass a law that gives consumers 100% control over their names and personal data. If we can pull this off, maybe the EU will follow our lead.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Junk Mail 101: The Internet, Cyberspace and Identity Theft

Stories abound over the beginnings of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Remember when we thought nothing could surpass television? Well, it did, and with a momentum that will be hard to duplicate in the future, if ever. With a series of commands on your computer, you can be anywhere, doing just about anything. But beware, because this medium of communications continues to take first prize for scams that will quickly relieve you of your money, your name, your personal data, and possibly even result in identity theft.

Of course, the junk mailers are there again, excitedly working their way through a goldmine of data that is currently the new wave in selling your name. While the old method using the postal address brings in around fifteen cents, your e-mail address is worth up to seventy-five cents, with an average of around twenty-five to thirty cents. And that would be OK if some of this money was going in your pocket.

Industry giant, America Online, sells their members’ names for about nineteen cents. There are many other Internet and e-mail lists on the market, but the colossus is one called Able Double Opt-In Consumer E-Mail Masterfile. Almost six million names at twenty-six cents a pop, and they know over three-hundred-fifty intimate details about your household. Go to, and click on “List Categories,” then “Consumer Mail Order & Responder Lists,” then scroll down and click on “Double Opt-In Consumer E-Mail Master” to see what they know about you.

They can identify: your marital status, age, income, gambling habits, software you own, adoptions in the household, credit cards, those who bank or invest on-line, your religion and political preference, whether or not you are gay/lesbian and looking for a mate, your occupation and medical ailments. All of these private facts, plus more than three-hundred more, are locked away in this company’s database, ready for immediate access.

It is well worth your time and effort to find out how your life has been made an open book, just because you answered an online survey to receive e-mail offers. You also get an inside peek at one of the companies selling your name and personal data.

And here’s a frightening scenario. What if your name and personal data like this were to end up on the street through the efforts of a hacker and then is sold under the table to unprincipled businesses? A health insurance company could use the medical ailments to deny coverage. A large corporation could turn down applicants for a job due to their weakness for gambling or for being gay or lesbian. The possibilities are limited only by what private information is available.

The huge on-line retailer,, went round-and-round with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Junkbusters about change in their privacy policy in September of 2000. The two organizations, in May of 2001, asked the FTC to stop from disclosing customer information without their consent. However, the FTC sided with, commenting that the company does not sell or rent customer names or personal information and would not do so unless it allowed them to opt-out first.

In a personal experience, my wife went on-line to check’s new apparel line in November of 2002, surfing through the offers but buying nothing, not even asking for information. We were more than surprised a few days later when she received an e-mail from Jeff Bezos, the firm’s CEO, thanking her for her supposedly unchaperoned visit. No big deal, perhaps, but clear evidence that our privacy is compromised on almost every move we make.

It is painfully clear that the battle over control of your name and personal data extends full force into the Internet age. And it is because of this very problem that Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina introduced the Online Personal Privacy Act in April of 2002. The 107th session of Congress adjourned before taking up the bill and apparently it is still in limbo. Senator Hollings has considered reintroducing the legislation. Perhaps you should contact your members of Congress and ask them to support Senator Hollings’ bill.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Junk Mail 101: Charitable Organizations Sell Your Name Too

Did you ever wonder why, when you contribute to just one charity, you get an avalanche of mail from all the others? I’ll tell you why. Your name breeds like rabbits. Moves with lightning speed from one philanthropic organization to another. It’s the call of the wild: ‘hey, we hooked someone today and we’ll sell you our names if you’ll sell us yours.’

Perhaps “hook” is a bit callous, but this side of the junk mail industry has to compete for your dollar just like the commercial companies selling you merchandise. And that’s just fine as long as the charity is spending the majority of the money on the actual “cause” and not on fundraising efforts. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, non-profits should spend at least 65 percent of total expenses on program activities. Let’s see how some of them fare.

I picked seven large organizations, strictly by random, and have listed them in alphabetical order. If you don’t find your favorites, go to the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance and click on “Charity Reports” at the upper left column. If they aren’t registered with the BBB, go directly to their site and look under financial information. If it isn’t there and an e-mail to the charity doesn’t produce an answer, you might think twice about your next donation. Now, the players and the percentages devoted to their programs:

Alzheimer’s Association: 75%
American Diabetes Association: 76%
American Heart Association: 73%
Disabled American Veterans (DAV): 74%
March of Dimes: 76%
Muscular Dystrophy Association: 77%
Sierra Club: 90%

They all sell your name, averaging almost 8 cents each. As a matter of reference, the typical commercial name sells for about 12 to 15 cents each. And the philanthropic fundraisers are included in the total junk mail take of $4 billion on names and personal data each year.

Most charitable organizations don’t collect, and offer for sale, as much personal data as do the commercial junk mailers and large data brokers. It costs more to capture or add this information and most of them are on a limited budget. Selling your name is more of an income-replacement-tool, and probably offsets the necessity of having to solicit more donations.

On the political side, there’s a funny piece from the Washington Post dating back to July of 1993. The Great Minnesota Progressive blog posted How GOP Computers Got My Mama; And How they Might Get You. The WP reporter tells of his mother receiving a “special” junk mail invitation to President Reagan’s return from his historic European trip. She can’t go and tells her son she will RSVP to let them know, which he, of course, tells her isn’t necessary.

She does anyway, later making a contribution to the GOP, and, naturally, a deluge of mail follows. Finally, a few years later, she begs her son to get the Republican party off her back. “I send them money but they just keep asking for more,” she said. The son tries to explain the fundraiser’s strategy of “giving more means asking for more.” To make a long story short, the mother became ill and the family had to take over her affairs. It was then that they found the humongous amount of political and charitable junk mail, all resulting from her initial contribution. The story is well worth reading.

It isn’t fair, however, to put the fundraising community in the same category as the typical junk mailer. Aside from the fact that, in most cases we are talking about an honorable, worthwhile cause, they don’t really feed at the same trough when it comes to the obsession for control over your name and personal data. How many cases of identity theft have you heard of coming from doling out to the Sierra Club?

The moral of this story is that fundraising organizations are a part of the junk mail community. They do business in a similar way to the commercial companies but their higher purpose puts them on a different level. The telemarketing Do-Not-Call law recognized this and that is why they are exempted. So, pick your charity of choice and give as generously as you can, but make sure your donation is going to the right place.