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Monday, March 30, 2009


Each of us would like to think that we are on top of our affairs, and in control of our everyday lives. That, of course, was almost brought to an abrupt halt by the Bush/Cheney assault on individual privacy. But if you thought that it was all resolved with President Obama’s inauguration, you have another think coming. Not that he may not make an attempt to solve the identity theft crisis—assuming he makes headway on other priorities like the economy, Iraq/Afghanistan wars, healthcare, education—but will he be able to prioritize this problem before it literally takes down American consumerism?

Liz Pulliam Weston, one of the best and most vocal consumer writers out there thinks there is hope, but the American public has to stand its ground. She even gives you the White House contact form, and a list of priorities to help you organize your concerns. Her concern is that she has “inadvertently” helped turn the system against you. That, of course, isn’t true, but she brings us up to date on how business has turned against the consumer, while she cranks out advice on how to be a good consumer. Some examples of bad practices are: mysterious cell phone taxes, unexplained bank statement “courtesy overdrafts,” services by cable and travel companies ending up substantially more than quoted.

Bleak, yes; but inevitable loss of our individual rights, no, according to Pulliam. She says it doesn’t have to stay the way it is in her MSN Money article, “How consumerism hurts consumers.” Here’s her take on the frightening population out there I call Apathetics: “Unfortunately, we've gotten so used to not getting what we pay for, or paying far more than we expected for what we actually got, that it's come to seem normal. Not right, but normal.” She levels on “whole industries” that have gone amok like credit cards and mortgages.

Pulliam says credit card issuers “…can change virtually anything about your agreement for any reason…jack up your rate, slash your credit limit, shorten your grace period and impose new fees with little warning and no provocation.” Further, “The way we handle mortgages in this country is far too complicated and fraught with hidden conflicts of interest for a borrower to ever be sure he or she has gotten the best possible deal.” Credit cards are one of three major sources of crooks gaining access to your sensitive data, according to Javelin’s 2009 survey on ID theft. In the past, I have identified mortgage companies as one of the largest warehouses of private information in the country.

Then the author uses harsher words, followed by a six point plan for consumers: “And you, the consumer, need to stop accepting the idea that you're a sheep for the shearing. You know the difference between fair play and foul play; so do regulators and so do businesses. Make them show it.” She then addresses Obama saying: “Mr. President, put consumers first.” Her 6-point plan includes, A Cabinet-level position for a consumer advocate, creating a consumer bill of rights, and giving the FTC some teeth.

Don’t forget now, go to the above site and let President Obama know of your concerns.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Before actually getting into the protocol for complaining, there are a couple of laws with which you should be familiar. First, the Fair Debt Collect Practices Act (FDCPA) which “prohibits debt collectors and collection attorneys from using undue harassment and other unethical practices when collecting debt.” This, according to, a website for consumers on handling debt. Second, the FTC Act, from Wikipedia, launched the Federal Trade Commission which was given the power to prevent unfair methods of competition, and/or deceptive acts or practices against consumers.

That said, I ran across a blog recently, CarreonandAssociates,com, which proves the potential clout of the FTC, even in a Bush administration. The article, “Biggest FTC crackdown on collection agency ever. 2.25 million,” published in December 2008, documents how Academy Collection Services abused their rights as a debt collector. More than 1,000 complaints were filed against the company with the FTC and states’ attorneys general. Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection says, “They ignored people’s complaints and rewarded the collectors who broke the law. This is not a business model that the FTC tolerates.”

If you are wondering where I am going here, it’s all about those of you who have complained about companies like Experian Credit Bureau in the past, but felt that actually filing a complaint with the FTC was useless. And for all those “Apathetics” out there who complain to themselves, friends or relatives, but never take action on their problem. Please read the above article. If a $2.25 million fine—the largst civil fine ever obtained by the FTC—doesn’t convince Academy Collection Service to do the right thing, probably nothing will. But the system worked.

And speaking of Experian, they were fined twice by the FTC for deceptive advertising in the sale of credit reports. Once in August of 2005 for $950,000, and again in February of 2007 for $300,000. Folks, both of these fines are for the same thing, proving this company will push the envelope if it has to in the sale of your names and personal data. I did a post on Experian in August of 2006 about how they denied my right to dispute a problem. This resulted from my complete credit report mysteriously vanishing from their system for a period of two months right after I had written critical posts about Experian.

In the above Experian post, there are a total of 42 comments as of today, most of which reference problems with the credit bureau. In each case I provided the FTC online complaint site, and if readers followed through, that is a good start in mounting the drive to bring charges against Experian…again. This is only one blog, and when you search “Experian consumer complaints” on Google blog search, you get almost 4,000 hits. Hopefully many of these blogs are recommending readers complain to the FTC.

As a result of the 1,000 complaints against Academy Collection Services, the Justice Dept. filed a complaint against the company on behalf of the FTC, resulting eventually in the $2.25 million fine against Academy. So just keep this in mind when you are wronged by business, and think you have nowhere to turn. And, hopefully, FTC action against these companies will improve under the Obama administration.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Knowledge at Wharton, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania, published a good article recently, except that I don’t agree with some of it. It’s good because it points out the problems faced today by data collectors on just what to keep, and what to delete from their databases. In case you don’t know, this is a “data pack rat” society starting with the individual consumer and probably going right to the President’s office. We are scared to death that the very piece of information we discard will be the one that we need most next week, next month, or even next year. In part, that could be true.

Wharton mentions recent data breaches by credit card processor Heartland Payment Systems where up to 100 million personal records could have been exposed to crooks. The article says the problem has become critical, and suggests that companies might consider cutting down the amount of data they keep. So far so good. And then comes the disagreement.

Two of Wharton’s marketing professors, Eric Bradlow and Peter Fader, recommend that companies should decide what data is necessary to keep competitive, and “purge the rest.” That’s where they lost me. They obviously have never been intimate with a junk mailer’s database. Many junk mail companies keep records until the person has been in the grave longer than Bradlow and Fader would probably consider appropriate for the normal storage period. And that is not exaggeration. To junk mailers, data is forever.

The main reason given by Wharton to screen out and get rid of unnecessary data is the cost of a data breach in 2008: $202 per lost record. That is up 2.5 percent from 2007. And the point is made of the uncalled-for risk taken by companies who hoard this information which could come back to haunt their customers and competitors. During the current downturn in the economy, you’d think more attention would be given to data security. However, in a 2009 Javelin Strategy & Research report, one of the major findings for 2008 was that, “Traditional Access to Private Data Continues to Be Commonplace.”

Another suggestion by Fader and Bradlow is to use predictive modeling to identify its best customers and then “throw away original data.” An excellent point and one I espoused as a junk mail data broker for twenty years. However, many with the old kitchen table, entrepreneurial spirit thought they could be a better “decider” than a technologically advanced piece of software that employed artificial intelligence to do the job. But this should be done only at an aggregate household level, not individual, in order to protect our privacy. This also comes with a cost, but this is usually offset by the savings of not mailing to a population that doesn’t want the mail. Another big plus.

No matter what perspective you approach this from, the only workable answer is control. In my 35 years as a data broker, I can tell you that the only way to solve the identity crisis is to give consumers control over their names and personal data, and compensate them when it is sold to encourage taking on this new responsibility.

Monday, March 23, 2009


In last Friday’s post, we explored the possibilities of the pharmaceutical industry using social networks to sign up individuals who are willing to share ailments with other consumers, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies. The idea is to enlist those eligible to participate in clinical tests that could discover solutions for those who have chronic diseases. Two such networks are and There is, of course, a potential privacy problem, when reflecting on the private information users of social networks like Facebook and MySpace display about themselves, some of which has been compromised.

But on the plus side there is always that possibility someone will find that particular group research effort that will alleviate or cure their illness. This blog is, and has been, trying to weigh pros and cons of consumers giving up personal medical data, and, truthfully, it is progressing toward the establishment of electronic medical records which President Obama feels is necessary. We just have to find a way to do it right, with only reputable companies doing the warehousing, and with patients maintaining control. The latter will probably be the major obstacle in the health care industry’s acceptance of this movement.

In the public sector, is the largest database available on the subject listing over 70,000 trials in 163 countries for interested parties to search. A Los Angeles Times article also mentions another database, TrialCheck, from, as well as The piece also mentions the fact that researchers “…hope to tie the records into an automated clinical-trial matching system that will alert doctors and patients alike.” The question is who will oversee all this massive databasing of your private medical information, and just how secure will it be?

A article, “Pharma Tackles the Social Network,” mentions another potential player, Web MD, “…a site complete with interactive tools such as blogs, message boards, ask an expert, etc.,” and 54 million monthly users. Johnson & Johnson’s new acquisition of is an additional example. The article indicates that the drawback to this type of marketing is the human element because social marketing is unpredictable due to its reliability on interactive marketing for results. It also points out there are regulatory risks to be faced by pharmaceutical companies.

Yet another site covered is, created by physicians for physicians to share information. According to, Sermo has established a “strategic collaboration” with Pfizer, producer of the Celebrex, Lipitor, Viagra and Zoloft drugs. You may remember Pfizer as, perhaps, the largest breacher of names and personal data in the pharmaceutical industry. Six data breaches since June of 2007, with the latest May of 2008. Quantities weren’t huge, but neither were they always small. One, in particular, involved 34,000 employees’ names/addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, phone numbers, and bank and credit card information.

Precisely why I say we have to qualify and regulate any company warehousing this personal medical data, and allow the individual to maintain complete control.

Friday, March 20, 2009


It’s bad enough that your regular personal data is winging its way around social networks like Facebook and MySpace, but would you introduce your private medical information to the same kind of scrutiny? Many are and some for a very good reason, like finding the answer to a potentially life-threatening problem. And because many people do not know they are a likely candidate for clinical trials—the research that ultimately solves many of our medical problems—the participation in these programs has been severely limited.

In a Newsweek Web exclusive by Sarah Kliff, we learn about the newest social networking experiments being advanced by the healthcare industry. The concept is to collect a group of individuals with ailments who are willing to share their experiences with other consumers, doctors and pharmaceutical companies. Right there, you say, the reason for a lack of participation is a public who does not trust their personal medical data in the hands of the pharmaceutical business. And, you would be right.

Kliff says there is a plus side for those grappling with chronic diseases to locate the clinical studies and new treatments that could help them. But there is still another obstacle that has to be overcome by these clinical trials in addition to the mistrust of drug companies, and that is participants’ concerns for their safety., a service of the California HealthCare Foundation, says that some argue targeting patients for clinical trials “…raises ethical and medical issues.” Diane Colaizzi, with the Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups, says “...there are concerns about the reliability of data from clinical trials where the participants might be communicating with each other online.”

Two of the new medical social networks mentioned in the Newsweek piece are and Three of the pharmaceutical companies working with Inspire, who has 100,000 users, refused to allow their name to be used, but Merck did issue a brief statement which included their commitment to programs such as this. Inspire makes its money based on a flat fee for the recruiting service provided the drug company.

The question, of course, is what information you share online about yourself that is personal. Inspire urges users to “…create an extended online profile.” They do not suggest nor recommend specific ailments, nor medications being taken. PatientsLikeMe, on the other hand, lists specifics users might add to their profiles like patient condition/disease, treatment regimens, and their outcomes. They also ask for your name, address, e-mail and birth date. Inspire does collect clickstream data, which is a history of your Web browsing habits.

I did a post back in May of 2008, “How Long Before We Accept the Inevitability of Personal Health Record Databases,” that points out the plus side of electronic health records, which is one of President Obama’s priorities. That post was preceded by a series of posts on companies that have spearheaded the field like, Microsoft’s Health Vault and Google Health. Although my gut feeling always tells me to shy away from giving up any personal data, this is a field that requires further looking into, particularly re. those companies that are warehousing this private information.

More on all this later.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Slate had a troubling article by Dahlia Lithwick on March 6 that positions the President as a keeper of Bush secrets. That in itself is alarming, but the piece goes on to say “…the administration clings to its bizarre decision to hold fast to the Bush administration's all-encompassing view of the ‘state secrets’ privilege, and the Nixonian view of executive power deployed to justify it.” Don’t know if this is a spin by Lithwick on what Obama actually plans to do, but, nevertheless, it is disquieting. Liberal Air America Network found 90 percent of 9,000 respondents want to see Bush and Cheney pay for their crimes in this area.

With the possibility that the new administration might find it necessary to protect its own secrets, the Slate article leads us to believe Obama might have this ridiculous idea that Americans still need to be protected from the truth. I hope not, or the President is in for some heavy criticism, and a number of verbal assaults from the privacy community. We’ve had enough of this in the past eight years, and it is time to trust the public to understand when you are leveling with them.

My major concern is that with GWB’s illegal acts of spying on innocent U.S. citizens taking up so much media time, the very core of the privacy movement, the current identity crisis, has repeatedly been shoved on the back burner by Congress, the White House and the American people.

I did a post on February 23 featuring the Javelin Strategy and Research 2009 Identity Fraud Survey Report. It’s shocking that ID theft has now taken a turn up in 2008, after dropping in 2007. The increase was 22 percent to 9.9 million identity theft victims, but the most startling news was that traditional access to private data continues to be commonplace. This is solid confirmation that the identity crisis is still dealt with as the stepchild of privacy.

During the 2008 elections I did a series of posts on Obama, the first of which asked, “Is Barack Obama the Presidential Candidate Most Likely to Protect Your Privacy?” It was a question addressed by the Ponemon Institute research firm where 40 percent of you said that protection of your privacy rights was either important or very important in deciding your choice for president. The sitting president was favored over Hillary Clinton almost 2 to 1 and swamped the Republicans .

The second was in June of 2008, and was an analysis of candidate Obama’s positions on privacy. He seemed more concerned with the Internet than the privacy crisis in general, offering no specifics on the latter. Although as a senator, Obama introduced no privacy legislation, in his presidential bid he did attack the Patriot Act, and commented that a person’s privacy must be balanced with the protection of the nation’s security. This I agree with, and it is an important component that is built into my concept giving consumers control over their names and personal data.

The third on January 23, 2009, was just after the President was sworn in and was headlined, “Will President Obama Take Action on the Identity Crisis and When?” Well, considering the banks, insurance companies and auto makers that have hit the fan both before and after Obama’s swearing in, it is easy to realize where his priorities are. But the new President has directed some attention to the environment, healthcare and education as well as the tanking economy, so I would expect the identity crisis to fit into his future list of concerns.

What do you think?

Monday, March 16, 2009


FTC goes commercial to combat misleading Experian free credit report ads. If you haven’t fallen for the come-on advertised by credit bureau Experian, you’re lucky. As we all know, almost nothing is free anymore, especially in this down economy, and Experian’s ploy is no different. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on a series of commercials being run by the Federal Trade Commission that announces through Irish step dancers and jamming musicians that this “free” offer has strings attached. You do get a free credit report, but to do so you must sign up for Experian’s credit-monitoring service at $14.95 monthly. Some privacy advocates feel this isn’t made completely clear by the credit bureau. I used to subscribe to Experian’s Credit Manager, and when I did unfavorable posts on Experian, my credit report suspiciously vanished for two months. Coincidence? Actually, the FTC commercials are a parody on the Experian ads which had a budget of $300 million, more than the FTC’s entire budget. If you want the real thing, go to Obama’s stimulus program attracts fraudsters. What else? A down economy, millions out of work, and the scam artists are served up their entrée in the form of the President’s new stimulus package. The bad guys are coming out of the woodwork promising access to thousands of dollars in government funds, often in the form of grants. PC World says that the U.S. Congress, unintentionally of course, created a cottage industry of Web sites and e-mail spammers to carry out the fraud. Web site sucked in the suckers with a sign-up fee of $2, adding an additional $99 to their credit card if they didn’t cancel within 14 days. Not satisfied, the crooks charged a monthly fee of $49.95, plus $29.95 for a debt-related service, all of which could add up to over $1,000 for a year. Another site, followed suit, but charging $94.89 each month if the consumer didn’t cancel in a 7 day period. Stealing your money is, of course, the issue, but some are also asking for personal information, which could lead to long-term ID theft. Junk mailers don’t consider consumer privacy a “basic” of marketing. In the March 2009 issue of Direct, a junk mail industry publication, there is an article titled, “Just the Basics.” Taken from a marketing research report prepared by Anderson Analytics, it covers marketers’ concerns for their customers during a recession. Blatantly and astonishingly missing is the security of consumer names and personal data. Don’t know why that surprises me, since during my 35 years as a junk mail list/data broker, it was rare that I could engage clients or large database companies in a conversation about improved protection of customer sensitive data. Here’s the way the report stacks up. First is “customer satisfaction,” followed by “customer retention,” then “ROI,” “brand loyalty,” and a host of other technology concerns that are boring to the average reader. I would give you a link to the site but you have to sign up to access it, a move that might have been prompted by recent criticisms of junk mailers from blogs like The Dunning Letter. There is one highlight, the fact that junk mailers increasingly feel basing marketing functions overseas may not be so good, but still for selfish reasons. They were afraid of the risk, and it wasn’t as profitable. At least they are consistent.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Gone, but not forgotten. This much-used cliché represents, perhaps, the most bizarre team of individuals to ever share control over the White House. Doubtless the Obama administration will spend much of its tenure attempting to uncover the horrendous mistakes, and outright attacks on the constitution, as well as to try and understand the incompetence level of George W. Bush. It was like a modern-day burlesque act with Bush and Cheney performing as headliners under the stage name of Big Brother in their attempts to develop complete control over the people of the U.S.

I did a post back in June of 2007, “The Cloning of George W. Bush,” which revealed the extent to which he had gone in his quest for imperial authority. There was talk at the time of Dubya plagiarizing George Orwell’s novel, 1984, in an attempt to turn the United States into another Oceana, the novelist’s fictional country. Along with his conniving VP, he was able to confuse, confound, befuddle, astonish, mystify, unhinge…there aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe their manipulating of the American public while deluding conservative constituents.

In another 2007 post—I was on a roll that year—Dick Cheney was featured in a piece depicting his participation in hijacking our privacy. It centered on the FISA court case about two plaintiffs who sued over being monitored in the NSA spying incident. They lost. Bruce Fein on Slate wrote an “Impeach Cheney” article with the sub-headline, “The vice president has run utterly amok and must be stopped.” It seemed clear then to everyone that cheney was the designer of the NSA’s warrantless spying.

It is amazing how the Bushies were able to level threats against and intimidate those who disagreed with their philosophy, while managing to curtail any investigation of what has turned out to be a corrupt administration. But they couldn’t have done it without the “architect,” Karl Rove. Other lackies included Defense Don, John Yoo, and Paul Wolfowitz. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was, of course, the leader in W’s rubber-stamp brigade.

We were habitually told that Big Brother was doing what it did in the best interest of American citizens. That was BushSpeak for, “shut up and let me do it my way.” You might remember another demagogue that used scare tactics to lure the public into believing his rantings over how Communists were taking over the country. Joseph McCarthy entered the spotlight in 1950, one year after George Orwell published 1984, and went on to hold Senate hearings on suspected subversives which ruined the lives of folks from Washington, DC to Hollywood. Sound familiar?

I’ll close this post with one of the most egregious maneuvers of the Bush administration; that of by-passing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for warrants in the act of spying on innocent Americans. FISA had a record of approving these warrants swiftly, and without the normal process that slowed down the court system. Many wonder if Dubya just knew it was all wrong and that his underhanded surveillance tactics would be exposed for what they really were. Illegal.

For what it’s worth, we are rid of this stigma now, but the question arises of just how long it will take to forget the Bush/Cheney era. I’m betting never. And if I didn't answer the question of this post's headline, maybe that means we need to take the subject up again later.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I was rummaging through some older material on identity theft and found an article from the Coalition for Data Security that must have reassured those who think it will never happen to them. First off, I tried to find their Web site but was always directed to a Go Daddy site that does talk about information security, but no coalition. I was shocked to read these three headlines from their article:

• Data security breaches almost never result in identity theft
• Data is often unusable due to encryption
• Consumers are not liable for fraudulent charges

If I were a lay person reading these headlines, I would feel reasonably comfortable that my personal data was completely secure. Of course it isn’t. They even reference Javelin Strategy & Research in the piece; my following comments will also use Javelin in disputing this nonsense. To start, although the article appears to have been done in late 2006 or early 2007, Javelin reported 8.9 million ID theft victims in 2006.

Speaking directly to the three headlines now…

• “Data security breaches almost never result in identity theft” – tell that to the 1,089,000 identity theft victims in 2008 whose data was stolen through data breaches. And that was a 22 percent increase over 2007.

• “Data is often unusable due to encryption” – according to an Identity Theft Resource Center report, only 2.4 percent of 2008 breaches had encryption. Further, Information Security Magazine says that only 22 percent of those recently surveyed by the online magazine planned on including encryption in their budget. Only two states—Nevada and Massachusetts—have laws requiring encryption, but other states have similar measures in the works.

• “Consumers are not liable for fraudulent charges” – sometimes they aren’t, but when they are it is $496 out of their pocket, plus 30 hard hours clearing up their credit problem. Victims’ O-of-P costs in 2008 totaled $4,910,400,000, $540,144,000 for those from data breaches. This also does not include any attorney fees if it is necessary to hire one.

There are other “cutesy” headlines like “The ’Don’t Lose Sleep Over It’ Breach,” which refers to information over which you have no control. Things like your telephone number, your name and address, and public records such as your home value, etc. Actually it won’t do much good to lose sleep over this kind of sensitive data because it is available everywhere. This is due primarily because the junk mail industry realized its value years ago and has since compiled it in to huge databases.

Unfortunately, certain manipulations like adding a date of birth to your name and address can produce disastrous results when it comes to stealing your identity. So, maybe you won’t lose sleep in large part due to the fact that you will check your credit report regularly for fraud. Since you have one free report from each of the credit bureaus—Equifax, TransUnion, Experian—pull one every four months. You’ll be glad you did.

Monday, March 09, 2009


Junk mail publication, Direct, attempts to mimic con man Harold Hill of Music Man in its headline, "Obama’s FTC Spells Trouble with a Capital T.” The columnist’s whining is both tiring and with a complete lack of substance. But this is typical since most of these hacks continue to defend an industry that has needed regulation for years.

The author, no doubt representing the attitude of many junk mailers, thinks President Obama’s pick of Jon Leibowitz to head the Federal Trade Commission, spells doom for the business. This, because Leibowitz is a firm believer in consumer rights, which might lead one to believe the junk mail industry isn’t. And I come to this conclusion based on my 35 years as a list/data broker, observing the concern for profits taking priority over the security of consumers’ personal data.

Apparently the writer of this article pines for the Bush administration style of consumerism, which is one of complete neglect. That is exactly what junk mailers want so they can continue to run their business in the secretive manner they have for years. They don’t want you to know how many times a day your private information is manipulated for revenues that exceed $4 billion dollars annually, and they don’t want you to ask why the name-holder—that’s you—doesn’t have the opportunity to share in the wealth.

I did a post on January 19, asking the question, "Will Federal Trade Commission Change its Tune to Placing Consumers Before Business under President-Elect Obama?” I guess I got my answer in the naming of Jon Leibowitz to head the FTC. Earlier, in April of 2008, I did two posts re. Leibowitz’s just held meeting on the dangers of behavioral or target advertising. That’s when junk mailers use lifestyle lists to zero in on households that smoke, gamble and/or drink, among a host of other consumer daily habits neatly tucked away in databases.

The Direct author tells of an interview in 2006 with Leibowitz, quoting the commissioner as saying “online information can be personally identifiable even if the advertiser doesn’t have a Web site visitor’s name or address.” When Leibowitz continued explaining that there are unique identifiers that can lead to a person’s true identity—which there are—he was called “ludicrous.” What is lucicrous is that these journalistic cheerleaders don’t want you to know just how much junk mailers know about you.

The junk mail industry has been able to get away with a lack of regulation for years—except for minor instances like being required to let you opt out of having your name and personal data sold, and a major move by the FTC when enacting the Do-Not-Call registry. The first is buried in any advertisement you receive; the latter, of course, was a matter of consumer demand. The reason Congress has failed its constituents on this issue is that they don’t have enough understanding of junk mail to create effective legislation. And…US consumers haven’t demanded it.

I’m ready to enlighten Congress. It’s up to you to make sure they do something. Contact: House of Representatives; Senators.

Friday, March 06, 2009


The FTC has just released their 2009 report on top consumer complaints for the year 2008. For the ninth year in a row, identity theft remains a strong number one with 313,982 complaints representing 26 percent of the total received. Keep in mind: these are actual complaints filed by real victims in incidents of identity theft. In case you aren’t familiar with the procedure, here is the FTC’s site. As you can see, they are fairly thorough in their explanations and instructions to consumers who need help.

I have been told by readers of this blog that the agency is useless in their attempts to solve problems with business or government. To a point, I agree, as do many top privacy advocates. But many of these concerns do stem from the incompetence and/or unwillingness of the Bush administration to do anything for the average consumer.

However, there are two major reasons why you should file a complaint when wronged. First, it goes into reports like the one I am covering here today, and becomes a tool used by the privacy community to convince Congress and the new White House to strengthen privacy law. Second, President Obama has named Jon Leibowitz, an FTC commissioner since 2004, and the lone Democrat on the commission, to serve as FTC Chairman. And yes, that means something, because it has become obvious we cannot depend on the Republican side of the aisle to do anything for the average consumer.

That said, let’s now turn to the FTC’s 2008 Top Consumer Complaints Report.

ID theft was ranked number one for the ninth straight year, receiving 313,982 complaints, representing 26 percent of the total of 1,223,370. Here are the hard facts folks. This is an increase of 21.5 % in identity theft over 2007, with a whopping 50.3% more total complaints registered with the FTC in 2008 over 2007. And here’s another revelation. Complaints against credit bureaus and other data purveyors rose from not even being counted separately in 2007 and 2006 to number six in 2008 with 3 percent of the total. I’d like to think The Dunning Letter, in its coverage of the Experian Credit Bureau’s treatment of consumers, had something to do with this.

The credit bureau entry into the race actually bumped sweepstakes and lotteries into the number seven position, which is significant when you consider the scams in that category. Another “newbie” is banks which are in control of much of our personal financial data, and don’t seem to always realize its value on the Internet black market. Junk mailers, including catalog sales, came in third, and Internet services came in number four.

My next grassroots movement is to convince American consumers they should demand to know everything that is in their credit reports, including any credit scoring techniques, including results, used by business to extend credit. And it should be free every quarter, not once a year, based on the fact that identity theft can happen at any time. Further, individuals should be able to correct their personal information within days, not months or years, as some of my readers have charged in their experiences.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Here’s another of my pet peeves; people who still reply to advertising offers that are obviously too good to be true. I know we’re in a desperate economy, but that doesn’t mean you should fork out more money to get taken by the crooks. The latest is apparently rebate processing jobs, according to an MSNBC article by Herb Weisbaum. In general, the work-at-home scam has been worked over for years in the media, but the suckers are still out there and the bad guys know it.

Cindy Dalton tells us Rebate Processor Jobs is, “…unlike anything you may have heard of before! That's because this is not some 'get rich quick' or MLM program. This is actual, get paid every two weeks, work!” Denial works every time as part of the “convincing us” formula. Cindy will help you make from $200 to $1,000+ per day…if you pay her $39.00 first. Of all the complaints received by Gary Almond, vice president of the Los Angeles BBB, he says not one indicated they had made one penny. Along with Process At, Rebate Processor gets an “F” rating from the BBB.

Angel Stevens fronts for Process At Home, and she exclaims you need no experience, education or special skills, but you are guaranteed an “immediate position.” That’s a new way to make the pitch sound more official. Further, the latter will put up to $225 a day in your pocket. But wait, there’s more! It only takes you 60 minutes to make that. Now I’m sorry but anyone who bites after that is not working with all their faculties. If that wasn’t enough, one woman paid $197, apparently without first checking the BBB.

The National Consumer League has a couple pages of tips to stay out of harm’s way. Most are so obvious they shouldn’t have to be said over and over. To start, know who you’re dealing with because the scamsters just continue to come out of the woodwork. And it’s incredibly easy to broadcast millions of e-mails, so check out each one you plan to follow up on carefully. In other words, do your homework before you react. There are eleven tips in all, and I recommend that you visit the NCL site before you make any move on future work-at-home offers.

Someday, hopefully, there will be an official clearing house we can go to that will cover all categories of fraud, carefully grouped for simple searching techniques that don’t discourage the average consumer. I know, there are many organizations that document scams, but I am talking about an all-encompassing agency environment similar to the FTC’s Do-Not-Call Registry. I know I have a tendency to depend on government controls and regulation, but after what we have witnessed since last Fall, apparently the business world cannot be trusted to regulate itself.


Monday, March 02, 2009

This is Part II of Grant Hall’s article, “Stalking Solutions.” Part I was posted last Friday. Grant’s e-book, Privacy Crisis, is one of the leading advocates in the field for individual privacy.


Part II

By Grant Hall


This writer has written extensively on the techniques necessary to conceal personal and investment funds for privacy purposes. While the needs of each individual will vary greatly, generally speaking, the use of entities including trusts, Limited Partnerships and LLC’s are valuable for privacy and asset protection. Additionally, check cashing stores and an anonymous safe deposit box prevent the freezing of accounts and any link to the funds once checks are cashed.
Useful websites for money and “banking” privacy are and


While work privacy can be accomplished most easily by certain practitioners and the self employed, shielding one’s work place will be a challenge-especially for the majority of people who derive their income from wages, salaries and commissions paid by a traditional employer.
When one desires vocational or professional privacy, a sound plan is necessary in order to eliminate one’s name and Social Security number from any number of data bases that store this information. Trusts and LLC’s have been used with success as the employer and this re-structuring of the employer/employee relationship has been accomplished through negotiating with flexible, open-minded employers. A win-win situation for both parties will facilitate the negotiating process.


Through the use of the aforementioned mail drop nominees and re-mailing of sensitive letters, one can keep their postal mail their own business.
The traditional one and two year cell telephone contracts-complete with a credit check that the public usually opts for is a definite no-no for the serious privacy seeker. You will want your entire communication system to reveal no link to your name. Therefore the purchasing of a cell phone off the shelf with no contract or registration requirements assures private telephone calls. Land lines at home are not a good telephone option. Land line telephones can be traced and the physical location of the telephone can be obtained.
Proxy servers enable the computer user to surf the net without being recognized by their IP address. The best companies provide a different IP address once or twice daily. When an anonymous proxy server is used in conjunction with email addresses that have no resemblance to your identity, computer security is greatly enhanced.
Computers should be purchased with cash. Software and all computer-related materials and online purchases are necessarily purchased with anonymous debit cards, money orders or cash.
Internet Service can be privately obtained through the use of company held accounts or an account can be secured by a nominee as explained in Privacy Crisis.


Ohlson, Kristin, Stalking the Divine: Contemplating Faith With the Poor Clares, 2003, Hyperion
Hall, Grant, Privacy Crisis: Identity Theft Prevention Plan and Guide to Anonymous Living, 2006, James Clark King, LLC (eBook available at:
Copyright: James Clark King, LLC, August 28, 2008