Identity Theft Is Quickly Becoming One Of The Most Organized And Costly Crimes Of Our Time
It all started one Monday morning when the phone rang at 9:05. I answered it only to find that there was no one there. I waited a few moments to see if the other party would pick up the line. No one came on. Instead, the “computer” which was calling tried to disconnect the call twice. This was nothing new or unusual. This sort of thing happens at least a couple of times a day at my house, where I am a stay-at-home mom. In fact this scenario seems to play itself out about every three months or so. However, this was not a usual day.
The phone that day rang not just once or twice, but all day long, at least once an hour. Once it even rang right after I hung up. Then, to aggravate matters, at 4:05 p.m. the “computer” began calling every 30 minutes. I could practically set my watch to it. I stopped answering the phone. When my husband came home from work and the phone rang (yet again, and during dinner, no less) I didn’t answer it and told him it was the computer calling. To his amazement, our answering machine picked up the call only to find (surprise!) nobody there. The last call finally came at 8:35 p.m. (Telemarketing companies are prohibited from calling after 9:00 p.m.)
I was so furious at the invasion of my privacy and the numerous interruptions to my day that I took prohibitive action. I had recently finished a book on de-cluttering your life and remembered there being a phone number I could call to have my phone number removed from telemarketing databases. I pulled out the book, hunted down the number, and called it. (See below for more information.) After walking through a series of voice prompts and “answering” various questions, I was informed that my phone number would be removed from the database for two years.
While this will be welcome change, it will take three months to go into effect (because telemarketing companies purchase their call lists quarterly). At least I’ll have some peace after that. In the meantime, I get 5 or 6 “hang-ups” a day. The ones that actually do put an operator on the line, I quickly cut off before they start into their “spiel” and tell them 1) “We’re not interested” and 2) “Please remove us from your calling list.” The second part is especially key. Depending on your state’s laws, they may be prohibited from calling you back for up to five years, or face a fine.
Why do telemarketing companies have such power over us? (You run for the phone when it rings, right? That’s power!) Because we let them! “We’re not interested” does not mean the same to them as it does to you. To them it means, “Oh, you’re not interested right now, but maybe tomorrow, or maybe next month, or maybe if we bug you enough.”
Gratefully, at least 30 states have or are working on statewide “No-Call Lists” that will allow people to opt out of telemarketing databases and will require telemarketers to transmit Caller ID information and limit “hang-up” calls. A national “No-Call” list should be in place by Fall 2003. These lists won’t prevent all telemarketing calls (charities are exempt, for example) and there are exceptions if you contact the company for information, etc. You’ll also have to sign up for both of these services so keep an eye out for more information.
In the meantime, what can you do to stop those annoying interruptions and invasions of your privacy? The first option would be to simply not answer the phone, although that really isn’t the easiest solution. You just never know when it might be someone important. And, after all, it is your home that they’re invading.
Some people have opted for a much-touted device called a “TeleZapper” fools the computer that is calling into “thinking” the number is disconnected, thus deleting it from calling lists. It costs around $50, but before you rush out and buy one, you should know that the technology already exists to circumvent this little device, so it may soon be obsolete.
Some people have the calls blocked by their local phone service with options such as Anonymous Call Rejection, Call Screening, No Solicitation messages, Caller ID, etc. In other words, you have to pay to block telephone calls that you don’t want and you must pay for this service every month. Other people record fax beeps on their answering device, which works sometimes, but is not highly effective.
The best way to stop the calls is to have your name and number removed from the telemarketing databases. There are many services available on the internet (and elsewhere) that offer to get you off of calling lists or onto no-call lists. What I did was call 1-888-5-OPTOUT, which is available 24 hours a day.
I did have to leave pertinent information including a Social Security number. That makes some people a little nervous, but you’re not really giving them any new information, and they need that number to get you off the lists issued by the national credit-reporting organizations (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union). While you’re at it you might want to write to DMA Mail Preference Service, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512, and include your complete name (and any others at your household and their various spellings), address, ZIP code, and a request to “activate the preference service.” This should prevent about 75% of your junk mail for up to five years. Be aware that doing this may opt you out of receiving catalogs and specials you would like to receive.
In the end, you are the one who has to take a proactive stance to prevent something you didn’t ask for in the first place. What a shame! However, with just one phone call and one letter, you will be able to put an end to most of those calls and maybe even save a forest as well! Now, if I can just put up with the phone ringing for 2 ½ more months…!
Also consider taking the time to research some of the popular credit monitoring companies and select a free trial to keep track of your credit reports on a daily basis. It’s a great way to stay alerted of potential identity theft & fraud threats which can devastate your credit rating.