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Thursday, November 01, 2007


The Wall Street Journal had a front page exposé about what is currently being called “lead cards” which are used to bypass the FTC Do-Not-Call list, and dupe seniors into making bad investments. (Read article) You’ve seen them; approximately 4 inches by 6, two-part, with one section detachable to return to the sender for more information. They may indicate a relationship with the U.S. government, or a large organization like AARP. We called them “lead generators” when I worked in the junk mail industry, a legitimate means then to develop new business, like a catalog request. But a ChoicePoint company—you remember the folks that sold your names and personal data to Nigerian ID crooks and were stopped in their tracks by new California notification law—has decided this handy gimmick should be utilized to get a commitment from seniors that could be used as an excuse to ignore the DNC list. The ChoicePoint company has decided that if you return the card, you give them the right to call you, even if you are on the DNC list. It’s a sleazy loophole that is typical of some junk mailers but, unfortunately, it has worked in several cases, and families have been bilked out of their life savings. The Williams’ card came from America’s Recommended Mailers Inc., located in a Texas strip mall. After returning the card, Horace Williams, 83, from North Carolina, had a visitor he thought was from AARP. Before he knew it, what was actually an insurance agent talked him into moving much of his $179,000 savings into annuities he couldn’t touch until age 90 without paying high penalties. Fortunately, after hiring an attorney, the Williams family got their money back, and America’s Recommended Mailers Inc. is now being sued by the Texas Attorney General. The WSJ piece quoted internal ChoicePoint e-mails that attributed the lead cards’ success in producing responses to their “fear-factor,” and indicated that response rates fell drastically when AARP’s name was removed. AARP did win an injunction against the CP company from referring to AARP on its cards, which also used a Washington, D.C., return address, apparently without an actual location there. There were other victims such as Jeanne Blom, 81, a widow in Minneapolis, and Mary Menges, 70, from Illinois. Menges transferred $170,000 from her IRA to an American Investors deferred annuity, where she could withdraw only 10 percent a year without paying a 17 percent penalty. The Illinois Attorney general finally got her money back. What is missing in the Wall Street Journal article is from where they obtained the Williams, Blom and Menges names to mail them the lead card in the first place? I can answer that question from my 35 years as a list/data broker. The names of senior citizens are available from a number of junk mail data compilers. But what these companies probably did was to select what is known in the industry as the over age 65 “gullibles.” It is no reflection on any of these families because the term actually refers to individuals who are overly active in responding to junk mail offers, particularly where the pitch is for something free, like more information. The rest is up to the process of follow-up, in this case an insurance agent posing as the bearer of complimentary information, but actually with the intent of the hard sell. It is deception on two fronts, and directed to one of the most vulnerable groups…our senior citizens.

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