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How to Opt Out of Junk Mail to Protect Identity


There are complete industries built around collecting, massaging and selling your data – your name, phone number, address, spending patterns, surfing habits, net worth, the age of your children, the magazines you buy, etc. Companies buy bits of your privacy so that they can knowledgeably market products to you that you are likely to purchase. The problem is, that data, once collected, is often breached by hackers who want to know more about you.

To minimize the amount of your personal information bought and sold on the data market, begin “opting out”.  Opting out is the process of notifying organizations that collect your personal information to stop sharing it with other organizations. “Pre-approved” credit card offers (i.e., financial junk mail) are a major source of identity theft. Those mailers give thieves an easy way to set up credit card accounts in your name without your consent. They spend money on the card and default on the balance, leaving you with the mess of proving that you didn’t make the purchases. The solution is to opt out of receiving pre-approved credit, home loan and insurance offers as well as mass marketing databases.

Pre-approved credit offers (also called pre-screened or pre-qualified credit offers) are possible because credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax and Trans Union – companies that collect and sell financial data on nearly every American) make a great deal of money selling your identity (i.e., name, address, phone number, age, credit score) to credit card, loan and insurance companies.  But it is your right to stop the sale of your information.

Fortunately, there are ways for you to “opt-out” of widespread information sharing (see the list of more than 120 ways below).

The Top 4 Opt-Out Opportunities:
  1. www.OptOutPreScreen.com. Remove yourself from the marketing lists sold by the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. There is not cost for this list.
  2. www.DMAchoice.org. This puts you on a Do Not Mail list for the Direct Marketing Association. This is a free service online ( $1 by mail) and allows you to remove yourself from receiving previously unsolicited catalogs, magazines, “other” mail offers, and provides a link back to OptOutPreScreen for credit offers.
  3. White Pages. That’s right, your old-fashioned printed phone directory is the source for most of the online contact info databases. To remove your directory listing you have to contact your local phone company .
  4. www.Spokeo.com. To opt out, read this blog post about [intlink id=”1752″ type=”post”]removing your info from Spokeo[/intlink]. This is one of the more utilized sites by identity thieves, stalkers and scammers.

There is a slower and more tedious process of opting out of online directories (i.e., you have to visit every one. Some (Spokeo.com)  are more important than others (Whitepages.com) because of the information that they collect. Sites such as Spokeo.com can have as much information as your physical address and pictures of your home, while others may just house your phone number. These sites spend hours upon hours scouring public records such as marriage licenses, birth certificates, and real estate purchases for this type of information.

Since most online directories typically offer a way to opt out of their listings you would think they would make it easy. Not so. They tend to hide this option deep within the site, as they don’t actually want you to leave. Luckily, The Privacy Rights Clearing House has done most of the legwork in their Comprehensive Opt Out List. I suggest starting with a few main sites, 123people.com, spokeo.com, etc. and continuously adding to it over time. Opt out of one a week if you like, and eventually your data will be less exposed. Protecting your privacy and identity is a layering process. It is easy for people to get overwhelmed, especially when it comes to online directories.

John Sileo is an award-winning author and international speaker on the dark art of deception (identity theft, data privacy, social media manipulation) and its polar opposite, the powerful use of trust, to achieve success. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which advises teams on how to multiply performance by building a culture of deep trust. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, the FDIC, and Homeland Security. Sample his Keynote Presentation (he shares how he lost $300,000, 2 years and his business to data breach) or watch him on Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes or Fox Business. 1.800.258.8076.

U.S. is Dumb About Smart Cards

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The typical US consumer still swipes their card, credit or debit, with those same old black magnetic stripes. And, we hold our breath and hope they work, and don’t lead to erroneous (fraudulent) charges we have to defend. The rest of the world has switched to Smart cards, according to Peter Svensson, The Associated Press, in The Denver Post. “The problem with that black magnetic stripe on the back of your card is that it’s about as secure as writing your account information on a post-card”.

Svensson comments “Smart-cards (chip-based cards) can’t be copied, which greatly reduces the potential for fraud. Smart cards with built-in chips are the equivalent of a safe:  They can hide information so it can be unlocked only with the right key”.

This begs the question, why is the US lagging in this technology? How do we re-vamp our system to promote smart-card transactions? Some experts maintain that it is a lack of demand by everyone from consumers and issuing banks to retail establishments. In essence, we don’t want the added security. This, of course, is just a smoke screen to obscure the underlying issue: no one wants to pay for it. Consumer don’t feel like they should pay for the technology (through higher card fees) even if it makes them safer (Haven’t we always been pretty safe?). Banks don’t want to pay to issue higher-cost cards with chip technology (they probably think it is cheaper to weather the costs of fraud – it is not). And retailers don’t want the added expense of new, more sophisticated equipment.

For the sake of a short term buck, all three groups are willing to sacrifice long-term safety, viability and profits. Does anyone else out there feel like America can be embarrassingly short sighted at times?

Smart cards are recognizable by the fingernail-size gold contacts embedded on one side of the plastic. In Europe, rather than turning your card over to a waiter, the waiter presents a wireless payment terminal, has you swipe your card and enter your PIN without ever losing sight of the transaction. The window for fraud drops nearly to zero since you are actively involved in the transaction.

What can you do to help? Let your financial institution know that you value the security of smart-card technology. According to Richard Sullivan, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, in 2006, 9 cents out of every $100 paid by card in the US ended up in the pockets of criminals (and not on the bottom line of the credit card company or retailer). The comparable figure for Spain was 2 cents. Let your bank know that they can save approximately 7% of every dollar they earn (a high ROI for a bank) by catching up with the times.

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John Sileo is America’s leading financial keynote speaker on identity theft and non-technical data security (the human element). His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, Homeland Security and the Federal Reserve Bank. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076 and reference smart cards for more information.

Motivational Keynote Speech

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After a financial conference speech I gave this afternoon on controlling social media data exposure, an executive asked me how long I’d been giving motivational keynote speeches.

My jaw dropped at the reference… “Motivational keynote speeches?”, I asked. “I’ve never really thought of myself as a motivational speaker. I’m more of a content speaker who focuses your organization on playing information offense… using and protecting information to your profitable advantage.” Yeah, I know, sounds like an elevator speech. It was.

The executive then explained his remarks in a very thoughtful way. He said that his organization had stopped hiring traditional “fluffy motivational speakers” when the economy went south, and now only hires content-rich speakers who motivate the audience to take action in a very specific area of need. If he and the rest of the audience came out of the speech ready to take action and clear on what steps to take next, then they referred the speech as motivational. “Every speaker we hire had better be motivational,” he said, “but that’s a given. We bring in a keynoter for their content, and they’d better bring their inspirational A-game as part of the package.”

His point is a good one. Motivation is not about giving individuals in the audience the motivation to do everything they need to do – work smarter, sell more, exercise, be a better person, give back to their community, live with integrity, etc., it’s about getting them to do what you need them to do. The average corporation doesn’t have the kind of resources necessary to take broadly motivational brush strokes (self-help), and even the best speakers can’t accomplish so much change in just an hour. The end game isn’t to make an audience of generically motivated attendees, but to motivate them to take very specific steps toward a worthy cause (and one that you have defined). In my case, the cause was to help audience members understand some of the risks and rewards inherent in social networking technology, mobile data access and cloud computing. That they considered my speech to be motivational is gravy; that they learned something and have concrete next steps to take when the conference is over – well, that’s just my job.

Watch John Sileo in action (above), listen to audience testimonials (left), learn more about content-rich motivational keynote speeches, or read about his personal experiences with data theft and how they lead him down the keynote speaking path and into the conference rooms of the Department of Defense, FDIC, Pfizer Homeland Security and others.