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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 .
- 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.