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Thursday, September 22, 2005

DMA Protects Deceased Families...AT a Price

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has just started its new Deceased Do Not Contact List. With the success of the telemarketing Do Not Call list, now almost numbering 100 million households, and the numerous calls from grieving families, the DMA felt it necessary to give another ultimatum to its 5,200 members. According to the DMA, they are “required to eliminate these individuals from their prospecting campaigns.”

You will, however, have to pay $1 for this right, giving the DMA your credit card number, name, relationship to the deceased, and e-mail address; the deceased’s, full name and address, all telephone numbers, their e-mail address, and month and year of death. They claim the buck is a verification fee, and I quote here, “to make sure we have a permanent record of the credit card information of those who did the registering; and to help prevent misuse of, or fraud against, this system.”

This is patently ludicrous. How does $1 stop misuse or fraud? Are they going to report violators to the FTC Death Squad or send you harassing e-mails because you were a bad boy or girl? “CTO” from the VoIP Blog has the right idea. He considered using each of his thirteen credit cards to add all members of his family to the list. Stopping their junk mail, he felt, would be the best Christmas gift he could give.

As if the total absurdity of the idea wasn’t enough, the DMA is quietly collecting another database with personal information—including your credit card number—flying in the face of so many recent data breaches from junk mail companies, data brokers and banks. What makes them think they can keep their data secure with the recent announcement that ChoicePoint has had another breach of 5,103 customers, as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution?

The number isn’t as important as the fact that this is yet another trespass on private information, added to the one last February, which was reported only because of a 2003 California law requiring notification. COMPUTERWORLD stated in an April article by Grant Gross that ChoicePoint discovered 45 to 50 more data breaches that hadn’t been reported. But if you are counting, that’s over 150,000 customer records revealed by ChoicePoint.

There are some in the industry that aren’t completely sure of the effectiveness of the Deceased list. Geoffrey W. Peters, Pro Bono General Counsel to American Charities for Reasonable Fundraising Regulation in Vienna, VA, likes the DMA’s effort but harbors some skepticism. In an article by Dan McNamara in The NonProfit Times, Peters recounts an incident a few years ago where he inadvertently mailed a suppression list and got a 6 percent response from supposedly dead people. His point is that all those included in the Deceased list might not be deceased.

I can go one better. I am personally acquainted with the actual mailing—not suppression—of the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference List by a couple of supposed junk mail professionals. That’s the list you get on when you contact the DMA telling them you don’t want any more junk mail.

The two culprits, a junk mail computer facility owner and a catalog entrepreneur, got together on a lark to test how the response to the list would be, and were pleasantly surprised with the results. Yes, folks, they really did mail to the list that is supposed to be used to eliminate people who do not want junk mail.

Although this was several years ago, it shows a certain arrogance, and the clear disregard for rules and ethics, for some in this industry.

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