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Friday, June 20, 2008


Today is my day to jump on the soapbox, and bombard readers with another warning about how your name and sensitive data are collected in an industry where profits rank far above security. Even though it has been said countless times, it deserves another outing, particularly with identity theft still soaring.

If there is one thing that should be remembered by junk mail shoppers, it is that when you order a product or service from a junk mailer, or request information from a non-junk mail company, your name and private information is the real prize in the transaction. Unbeknownst to many consumers, that sensitive data is rushed at lightening speed to a computer facility where it is prepared to be sold, often within 24 hours. Sure, they will deliver your product, or service, or requested information, but that is almost an afterthought to many companies that survive from the marketing of your names and personal data.

And that is not the purpose for which you gave them your name, address, telephone number, credit card account, etc. You gave it to them to deliver what you asked for, not sell it to 50 other junk mailers that, if you should order something from them, will sell it to another 50 companies, and on and on. I also mention non-junk mailers because they are quickly catching up with the traditional list business in collecting names and private information, also putting it up for sale. The most glaring example of this is pharmaceutical companies who buy your prescription data from your local pharmacy.

And the process does not end with the information you provide the junk mailer. Not satisfied, they go to major data brokers like ChoicePoint, Acxiom, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion to enhance the information they already have on you. Things like your age and income, home value, credit cards you carry, children’s names, where you work, what you drink and read, and whether or not you gamble. The last I checked, there were a minimum of 250 known demographic and lifestyle characteristics that could be added to your name and address.

There are now around 60,000 lists on the market that gross over $4 billion each year by the junk mail list industry. Most of these lists are not regulated by the Direct Marketing Assn. (DMA), so they are free to do what they please with your name and personal data. Most are honest, but it is the group of renegades that will sell your private information to unethical and dishonest companies that ply us with fraudulent offers, then vanish into the night.

Selling mailing lists has created a life of its own, and with the way new technology is evolving, every day there are new ways to suck up every morsel of private information available on each of us. Although I cannot confirm this, I bet that there is a new database filled with consumer sensitive data born every hour. Maybe even more often. Question if you will, but we have entered the age of Orwell’s Big Brother.

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