DUMBING DOWN ON PRIVACY
FTC goes commercial to combat misleading Experian free credit report ads. If you haven’t fallen for the FreeCreditReport.com 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 AnnualCreditReport.com. 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 PresidentObamaGrants.com 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, OfficialStimulusGrants.com 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.