Here are some tips that will help you guide your privacy. Individual consumers aren't the only victims of fraud. No matter whether the con artist uses the mail, the telephone, or the Internet, the best defense against scams is to follow these basic rules:
- Guard your financial or other account information. Don't provide it to anyone unless there is a legitimate reason to do so as part of a transaction.
- Do not print your phone number on your personal checks. Companies often get your number and address from personal checks.
- Do not give your real address and phone number when registering on websites, making a purchase online and offline, or elsewhere whenever possible. Some companies ask for your phone number at a register. Refuse to give it or give them a made up number. Later you can always ask the company to "update" your information.
- When making a purchase or registering online carefully read the sign up forms. Most of them will let you decline any additional marketing contacts from the company and its affiliates.
- Be careful what you sign. Companies can also call with your written permission, so look at contracts, order forms, contest entry forms, and other things you sign carefully to make sure you're not agreeing to be called without realizing it.
- Make your number "unlisted” or better “unpublished”.
A few little tricks
- If you are listed in the phone book, telemarketers can obtain your contact information from the phone company. If your number is "unlisted," your name, address and phone number will not be printed in the phone book. Telephone companies usually charge a monthly fee to be unlisted. Your number will still listed in Directory Assistance so family and friends can still get the number from the operator. But people who don't know your name will be more reluctant to contact you.
- It's better to have your number unpublished meaning that the phone company will omit your name, address, and telephone number from appearing in the White Pages and Directory Assistance.
: Instead of paying fees for having your number unavailable, you can ask your phone company to replace your last name with your grandmother's maiden name (or something that you never use). This will cost a few dollars, but works very well. No monthly fees for having your number unlisted and as soon as you hear someone calling you Mr. [your grandmother's maiden name], you can either block the number or request to be put on the company's Do Not Call List. Note that Caller ID takes its information from the phone book, so you will be identified as Mr. [your grandmother's maiden name] on Caller ID units of people you call.
Another helpful addition to the listing (available in some areas) is: "(data line)", meaning that the phone number is connected to a fax or computer and not to a live person. Check with your local company if this option is available.
In addition, you can contact your phone company and change your listing in the phone book. Ask them to list your name without your address. The phone companies often do it free of charge. If the listing is incomplete junk mailers and telemarketers will be more reluctant to contact you.
- Include Caller ID into your service package from your phone company. With Caller ID your phone can sort the calls you want from those you don't. It will even keep a list of numbers so you can call back the ones you wanted but missed. When your phone rings, the caller's number appears on a small screen. Caller ID lets you see the calling party's phone number and even their name before answering a call. A special call display device located on or next to your phone is required to allow you to view the calling number. Phone companies charge a monthly fee for this feature.
- Use Caller Id blocking when returning strange calls.
- Caller ID Blocking per call allows you to prevent the transmission of your telephone number on outgoing calls. This feature will prevent your telephone number from being displayed on Caller ID equipment or announced to customers who subscribe to Call Return. It comes free with your phone service.
- To block your phone number or name from appearing on a recipient's Caller ID unit on a single phone call, dial *67 before dialing the phone number. Your number ordinarily will not be sent to the other party. (See exceptions below.) But you must redial *67 each time you place another call. Use it when calling companies you don't have any business with.
- Exceptions: 800 number/toll-free calls. You are not able to prevent the display of your phone number when you call 800, 866, 877, 888, and 900 numbers. The called party, which pays for the call, may be able to identify your phone number using Automatic Number Identification (ANI) technology. When you use a toll-free number to call a business with which you have an account or to inquire about a product or service, your phone number may be captured by a system called Automatic Number Identification (ANI). This technology automatically identifies and stores the number from which you are dialing. By matching your phone number with other lists and street address directories, your name and address can often be discovered and added to the company's calling and mailing list. Not only will the company that captured your number be able to use it, they can sell or share it with their affiliates. Always assume that when you call a large corporation they have your phone number.
- With telephone service providers, you also can get the following additional features:
- Call Screening. Your phone can be programmed to reject calls from selected numbers with a service called Call Screen. Instead of ringing on your line, these calls are routed to a recording that tells the caller you will not take the call. With Call Screen, you can also program your telephone to reject calls from the number of the last person who called. This allows you to block calls even if you do not know the phone number. Most phone companies charge a monthly fee for this service.
- Most local phone companies offer a relatively new service called Privacy Manager. It works with Caller ID to identify incoming calls that have no telephone numbers. Calls identified as "anonymous," unavailable," out of area" or "private" must identify themselves in order to complete the call. Before your phone rings, a recorded message instructs the caller to unblock the call, enter a code number, or record their name. When your phone rings, you can choose to accept or reject the call, send it to voice mail, or send a special message to telemarketers instructing them to put you on their "do not call" list.
- Never buy anything over the phone. If you are interested in what the caller is offering ask them to send you information via mail.
- Opt-out of pre-screened credit offers. If you would like to reduce the number of pre-screened credit and insurance offers you are receiving, visit www.optoutprescreen.com or call 1-888-5OptOut (1-888-567-8688) to opt-out of these offers. This is a free service to consumers offered by the major credit bureaus.
- Know who you're dealing with. Do business with companies you know and trust. If a company or charity is unfamiliar, check it out with your state or local consumer agency and the Better Business Bureau. Fraudulent operators open and close quickly, so the fact that no one has made a complaint yet doesn't guarantee the company or charity is legitimate. Also search internet for this company name. You might find people's comments about their experience with this organization.
- Know what's illegal. It's illegal for telemarketers to ask for a fee upfront if they promise or claim it's likely they'll get you a credit card or loan, or to "repair" your credit. It's also illegal for any company to ask you to pay or buy something to win a prize, or to claim that paying will increase your chances of winning. For example, some scam artists often can ask you to pay for "shipping and handling" to receive your "prize" or "free gift".
- Beware of tricks scam artists use. They might ask you to act immediately; scare you into acting now, pretend to be from companies you do business with and ask you to verify personal information they should already have. Always contact the company directly to confirm before providing information.
- Again, never pay over the phone if you are the one who is receiving the call. If you do decide to take the risk, use your credit card. If you pay for a transaction with cash, checks, or money orders, your money is gone before you realize there is a problem. Paying by credit card is safest because you can dispute the charges if you don't get what you were promised.
- Know your caller true location. Some fraudulent telemarketers are deliberately located in other countries because it's more difficult for U.S. law enforcement agencies to pursue them. It may be hard to tell where they are; they may have mail forwarded from the U.S. and use telephone numbers that look like domestic long-distance. Be very cautious when dealing with unknown companies from other countries.
- Check all bills and invoices carefully. It's hard to get your money back once you've paid it to a con artist.
- Shred documents with personal and sensitive information prior to their disposal.
- Include Anonymous Call Rejection feature into your phone service. With Anonymous Call Rejection, people who block delivery of their name and number to your Caller ID equipment can't reach you unless they stop blocking. This ensures that everyone who wants to speak with you will supply identifying information. Phone companies sometimes include this option free of charge into service packages.
- Consider going mobile. Many people are canceling their land lines and use their cell phone for all their phone needs. Cell phone numbers are not available to telemarketers (A bogus email has been circling the internet making claims that cell phone numbers will be released to telemarketers. It's not clear where the e-mails originated, but industry and government officials say they are an urban myth; they are not true. There is no list of cell phone numbers being turned over to telemarketers, and telemarketers are barred from calling cell phone numbers. )
- Avoid providing your name on your personal telephone answering machine. The only message that should be provided is, "You have reached, (provide phone number), at the tone, please leave your name and number and I will return your call."
- Never enter contests that require your phone number. This is one of many ways that the telemarketers use to get your name address and phone number.
- Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it's probably is.
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