If you want to know what’s “out there” on the Internet about you, just Google your name, your child’s name or your phone number.
You may be amazed at the amount of information that’s there for the taking. You may also be prompted to keep a little more of that information to yourself in the future.
Once they have that information, telemarketers will likely start calling. Getting off their call lists starts with a request to be placed on the federal do-not-call list (www.donotcall.gov).
In times of tight money, those phone lists can be worth big money. If you can find out what business or organization sold your name, call and ask to be opted out of any future sales. Be careful: Some less reputable businesses will ask for your Social Security number, “to verify your identity.” While you might be tempted, it’s never a good idea to give out such revealing information to unknown parties.
Consider starting a boycott of businesses that sell phone lists. Tell them that you don’t support such practices and you’ll tell others to boycott them as well. You might be surprised at the policy changes that follow. If you receive an unwanted sales call, ask to be placed on the company’s no-call list.
Mailing lists also are hot commodities. The next time you order something by mail, list your pet’s name (and your last name) as recipient. See where else your pet’s name ends up as time goes on.
Your research might reveal that a local or county government is making your personal information too easily accessible. A letter to the appropriate government official at least puts your view on the record, and enough of such letters might prompt a change in policy there.
There are ways to keep your land line or cell phone number from being harvested when you make calls. While your phone company sends your number with every call you make, you can block the recipient’s ability to see your number. Your company can block the viewing on all calls for a fee. To block viewing on a single call, dial *67 before you dial the number; the recipient’s screen will read “private call” or some similar, nondisclosing message. Companies with 800 numbers, plus emergency responders, will still be able to see your caller information.
Internet tracking is becoming a huge industry, as advertisers customize messages for individuals. Tracking “cookies,” small files that stay on your computer after you’ve visited many websites, have been joined by “flash cookies” and “beacons.” All are designed to gather information about the person facing the screen; some replicate themselves even after a user attempts to delete the cookies.
The World Privacy Forum is a California-based nonprofit that studies, among other things, the impact of technology on our private lives. The group’s website at www.worldprivacyforum.org includes a top-10 list of opt-outs for people who want to actively protect their privacy.
The Federal Trade Commission is turning up the heat on spammers, the senders of junk e-mails designed to help them take your money. Visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/spam/ for details.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, go to http://necontact.wordpress.com, or email at <a href=”mailto:EMAIL@EMAIL.COM?subject=Bangor%20Daily%20News%20Article”>firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.