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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Junk Mail Ethics IV

So far we have covered marketing surveys, envelope “teaser” copy, and shipping and handling costs, in relation to the Direct Marketing Assn.’s (DMA) guidelines: “DMA Releases Latest Ethics Report; Refers Listing Service To FCC.” My intent was to pick the four most prominent issues and highlight their importance from my experience as a former junk mail list broker. Number four is by far the most significant.

“Where do they get my name?” is a question on the minds of most junk mail shoppers, and the number one priority for anyone who has suffered identity theft. My concept of passing federal legislation to give consumers control over their names and personal data would not dampen in the least the efforts of the junk mail industry in finding new sources to uncover your name and private information. Why? Because this is inherent in the never-ending process of bulding intimate dossiers on every American household.

It would, however, stop them from using this data without you having full control and knowledge of the fact.

The DMA guideline states: “Direct marketers should disclose the source from which they obtained information about consumers upon a consumer’s request. Marketers should tell consumers the source of their name on a specific list, or, if not possible, the kinds of sources used.” I would add one more point. The junk mailer should also be prepared to tell the consumer how much they paid for their name and personal data.

Any regular reader of The Dunning Letter knows of my grass-roots movement to pass the above legislation that also advocates that the consumer be paid whenever their name and private information is sold. In all of my 35 years of selling mailing lists, I cannot remember the DMA seriously addressing the issue of letting individuals control their names and personal data. The reason is the bottom line for their members; selling lists is a $4 billion annual business.

But after 100 significant data breaches in 2005, affecting nearly 56 million consumers, resulting in 9.3 million victims, and a per-victim cost of $5,885, you should want to know where they got your name.

A few years ago, after placing list orders for one of my clients, and after their advertisement was sent, they contacted me about a disgruntled recipient who wanted to know where the junk mailer had gotten their name. Since every name is key-coded by list, it was easy to identity the source. I contacted the junk mailer as a courtesy to let them know they might get a call re. this matter. They stonewalled me with a complete refusal to allow me to reveal their name.

Probably not true of all junk mailers, but this gives you an idea of the secrecy level over names and private information. It certainly does not conform to DMA guidelines, above.

So what to do? Like with the shipping and handling charges in my last post, call or e-mail the junk mailer from whom you receive the advertisement. Look on the order page for a telephone number or web site, or just Google the company. Click on either “Contact Us” or “Customer Service.”

You have a right to know who is selling your name and personal data, and you really should put out the above effort to keep the junk mailers on the ball. Hopefully, this will all change soon when the consumer is finally in complete control.

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