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Thursday, February 14, 2008


In a December 2007 article from Multichannel Merchant by Denise Hopkins, she documents how data collectors can turn your innocent credit card purchase into a treasure trove of valuable information in the form of appending additional personal data. Hopkins is the vice president of marketing and product development for Experian Marketing Services, one of the top five consumer database companies, and top three credit bureaus in the country. The reason that it is important to spend this extra money to better identify you is that one-third of all consumer purchases are with credit cards, amounting to $40 out of each $100 spent. The Experian VP states that the customer is already aware of the company’s “brand,” with the implication that this makes building a profile of the individual OK. It is not! What it is is a sneak attack through the back door building a dossier on this person who has no inclination of what is going on. Although there is no mention of selling this information—in junk mail circles when you buy something from one of these companies, that usually translates into the right for them to sell your name and personal data—and that is the business of the Experian Marketing Services division. As a former list broker, I bought lists from them for years. You can, of course, opt out of the sale of your sensitive data but in Hopkins’ process, this is an afterthought. She even gives a blueprint of how to pull off the caper. You lift the information from the magnetic strip on the back of the card, which normally includes the card holder’s name and address. Then, proceed to the third party data service—which Experian provides—to append the extra juicy stuff like your age, income, occupation, education, home value, and the list goes on and on. They even know if you gamble, drink, smoke and have your medical ailments and prescriptions taken. Denise Hopkins may not have had any of the scenarios I have created here in mind. What I can assure you is that it is all possible—and with the junk mail industry committed to collecting and selling every morsel of private consumer information they can get their hands on—it is also likely. So you tell me. Is it chutzpas or arrogance? Or have junk mailers really convinced themselves that they own our names and personal data, and may do with them exactly as they please? I believe it is the latter. See more posts on Experian here, here and here.

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