Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How to Opt Out of Mail, Email and Telemarketing Solicitations

Many people are frustrated by the amount of junk mail they receive each year (the national average is over 50 pieces of mail from credit card companies alone). And, telemarketing soliciting credit card offers can be especially intrusive and annoying. But there are ways to get off of these marketing lists on a permanent basis. Listed below are links and information on some of the more popular and effective ways consumers can access to unsubscribe or "opt out" from unwanted telemarketing calls and mailings and protect their privacy.

Telemarketing calls

Register your home and cell phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry to cut down on telemarketing calls. This is for consumers only, not businesses. It's not completely foolproof, however. There are still some organizations that are allowed to call registered numbers, and most local marketers are not restricted either. Everything you need to know is explained on the Web site.

The registration and verification process is easy. The online registration process requires an active e-mail address. If you register online, the Federal Trade Commission will send you an e-mail message with a link in it. Click on the link in the e-mail within 72 hours to finalize your registration. If you do not have an e-mail address, you can register by phone (888-382-1222).

Credit Card and other types of direct mail offers

Stop the credit bureaus -- Experian, TransUnion and Equifax -- from selling your name to mailing lists. This will cut down on the number of pre-approved credit offers that you receive. Contact them directly online or toll-free at the addresses listed below:

Equifax, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241; (800) 685-1111

Experian , P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013; (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)

Trans Union, P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022; (800) 916-8800

To opt-out online go to or call 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688).

Other types of junk mail

The Direct Marketing Association is a "trade association of businesses that advertise their products and services directly to consumers by mail, telephone, magazine, Internet, radio or television," according to its website ( The DMA maintains a database of consumers who want to curtail unsolicited mail. The catch is that only DMA members must abide by the pledge to take your name off their lists. Take note that while you can opt out by mail for free, opting out online will cost you $5.

E-mail Junkmail

Read advice from the Federal Trade Commission ( for reducing the spam that clogs your e-mail account. There are links that let you report spam if your request isn't honored, and there are tips to avoid becoming a victim of e-mail scams.

Restricting financial institutions from sharing your personal information

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act lets you tell your financial institution not to share your personal information with third parties. It's a relatively toothless law. The bank can still share plenty of your information with its affiliates that, these days, can be dozens of companies. And it can even share information with third parties if there's a marketing agreement between the two companies. Nevertheless, it's a good idea to take the time to opt-out if you are not interested in receiving solicitations for these ancillary services.

Unfortunately, there's no quick way to opt-out with all of the financial institutions with whom you do business. You must sign up with each one individually. The law states that you must be given opt-out information when you open an account, and you must receive notice annually of your right to opt out. But you can opt out any time by visiting the bank's internet website and clicking on their privacy policy link. Many banks and credit card companies will also let you opt-out by phone, or you can contact them and request an opt-out form be mailed to you.

Cardmember Benefits -- Visa Warranty Manager

Many of the major brands of credit card, like Visa, provide cardmembers with ancillary benefits. One often misunderstood benefit deals with extended warranty protection. But what does this service truly involve and how is it activated?

In the case of Visa, their Warranty Manager protection service is an automatic feature of the credit card, regardless of which bank issues the plastic. Details of the program are typically covered in the cardmember agreement, which is required to be sent to all approved applicants along when a new credit card is mailed. Basically, the service automatically doubles a manufacturers product warranty.

To take advantage of this service a consumer and receive the warranty extension, a Visa credit card cardmember only needs to use their Visa card to purchase an item that has its own warranty coverage. Then, the consumer needs to send in the warranty registration card that accompanies most items to activate the standard warranty. Once the item is out of warranty, typically beyond one year from the date of purchase, the Visa warranty kicks in for an identical period of coverage. If the item purchased breaks or is deemed defective during that extended period, Visa will credit the purchase price back to the consumers credit card.

What types of products are covered? Normally, those types of products that carry a standard manufacturers warranty, which include most electronics and small appliances. Also included, however, are larger appliances such as washer/dryers, plasma TVs and home theater systems. As long as you have a large enough credit limit to cover the purchase on a Visa credit card, and you take the time to register the product with the manufacturer, you should be eligible to receive the warranty extension.

These types of cardmember benefits are in fact insurance policies. The major credit card associations like Visa and MasterCard fund these policies as standard benefits of carrying their brand of payment card. The cost of the programs are then born by the issuers, who must pay fees back to the card associations in order to issue their brand of credit card to the public. But are they a good deal for the consumer? Absolutely. They clearly add value to the process of using a credit card for purchases and give the consumer added protection and flexibility should they not be satisfied with their merchandise.

Online Account Management

So, you have a new credit card or maybe an old favorite that you have managed the old fashioned way (by reviewing paper billing statements sending payments back through the mail). The internet continues to make our lives easier in so many ways and it only makes sense to leverage technology to it's fullest to make your financial life as easy as possible.

How does one get started in order to manage your credit card account online and pay bills with the push of a button? The first place to start is to determine your bank or credit card issuer's website address. Normally it is not to obscure - simply look it up through a search engine like Yahoo! or Google by typing in your bank name to find the exact address. The web address is also often listed on the back of your credit card. You can call the toll-free customer service number listed on the back of the card as well to access additional help, if needed.

Once you've obtained the website address it's simply a matter of establishing online access to view your information through the credit card issuing bank's website. This requires choosing a user ID and password. Once this is done the bank will usually send the account holder a confirmation email and often a temporary ID is mailed to the permanent address of the account holder. The temporary ID is often mailed because it adds an important layer of security to ensure it is actually the cardholder or bank customer that is requesting online access to the account. Since this process can take over one week to complete, it's important not to wait just prior to a bill coming due before assuming it can be paid online.

Once access is established, financial life gets much simpler. Customers can view available credit lines, recent charges as well as make payment on current credit card balances due. Another great thing about using online account management for credit cards is the ability to pay many third party bills automatically. These types of recurring payments are growing in acceptance by many types of service providers that once only accepted checks for payments. Utility providers such as cable TV, gas and electric, city services and wireless phone and internet now accept online payments by credit card. Even things like mortgage and rent can often be charged by credit card.

If you have a rewards credit card, paying monthly, non-discretionary bills can really help ad up points, cash back or miles that otherwise would take much longer to accumulate. Smart consumers look for every way possible to move everyday spending from cash or check to a rewards credit card. If you are not able to pay your balance off in full each month it's probably not a good idea to make non-discretionary core payments like mortgage, rent or utilities on a credit card, however. Credit card purchases can get out of hand really quickly if you add discretionary and non-discretionary items together. It's best to live within your means - and some types of cards can help get you back on the road to financial health (like those that offer 0% interest for a year while you pay off the principal).

Online account management is a wonderful convenience of the age in which we live. If you haven't made this transition in your financial life, it might finally be time.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Skimming -- What it is and How to Avoid Being a Victim

Skimming is not exactly a new phenomenon, but it continues to make the news in many regions around the country. What it involves is a small bit of elicit technology and some criminal intent on the part retail employees that enables the theft of credit card information. Skimming most frequently occurs at retail outlets that often process credit card payments - particularly bars, restaurants and gas stations. The crime involves a corrupt employee who skims customer credit cards with a small, hand-held electronic device that can read the data on the magnetic strip. The employee usually sells the information through a contact or on the internet, at which point counterfeit cards can then be made. Criminals can then go shopping with a copy of the credit card or debit card with the cardholder unaware of the fraud until a statement arrives showing purchases they did not make or authorize.

How to prevent yourself from becoming a victim?

Closely guard your credit cards - treat them in the same way that you would treat your cash. Try not to let your credit card or debit card out of your sight when making a transaction. Monitor credit card receipts and check them against your statements carefully. If you notice an unfamiliar transaction, contact your bank or credit card issuer immediately. The customer service number is printed on the reverse side of most credit cards and debit cards.

* To further protect yourself from potential unauthorized charges or identity fraud, you can request that credit bureaus monitor your accounts for unusual spending patterns and require them to notify you before new credit can be granted in your name. These services come at a price, normally under $100 per year depending on the credit agency. But, that is definitely cheaper than the ultimate cost of identity theft that can be caused by skimming and might be a good investment if you eat out in restaurants on a regular basis.

What to do if you're a victim of credit card fraud?

As stated above – contact your bank or credit card issuer immediately. If you don't make a report in a reasonable time frame you may be liable for some or all of the unauthorized charges. Another step is to contact one of the three major credit bureaus to request a security freeze to be applied which only allows new credit to be authorized with your express consent.

If your credit card is used fraudulently and you still have the credit card in your possession, you will not be liable to pay for any part of the losses. You would probably still have your card in your possession if you are a victim of card-not-present fraud or if your credit card has been skimmed and a fake version produced. If someone else uses your credit card before you tell your card issuer that it has been lost or stolen, the most you will have to pay, generally, is $50. Fraudulent charges are easier to correct with a credit card (as compared to a debit card) since the money has not been taken out of your personal checking or savings account yet.

Credit Card Phishing -- What it Means and How to Prevent It

Phishing (the attempt to obtain an individual's credit card and other personal information for fraudulent use) has become a part of the American lexicon in recent years, and it doesn't involve a lazy afternoon sitting on the dock with a cold beverage. This type of phishing is an insidious form of fraud primarily being perpetrated by thieves who pretend to represent legitimate companies through email and telemarketing in order to get information about individuals' credit cards.

While the advent of the Internet has created an incredible advancement in convenience, including the use of credit cards for online payments, it has also proved to be a boon for those who wish to commit fraud. The theft of information over the Internet has been somewhat tempered by online security measures and consumers can generally feel secure when shopping on websites that display a lock icon and an "https" heading in the Internet browser. These are indications that an online retailer offers a highly secure website employing the latest in secure socket layer technology, which fully encrypts personal and credit card account data.

The situations that consumers need to guard against almost always involve an individual voluntarily handing over sensitive personal information. When would anyone willingly do this, you ask? It happens everyday according to Internet security professionals. What happens is a person will receive an official looking email from a trusted source, such as their bank, Paypal or eBay. In other words, a source with which the consumer has had past dealings and with whom they already have an online account established. The fraudulent email will come with all the right wording and company logos and will typically profess to be doing a security check, requiring the customer to verify personal information.

Since the advent of these so called phishing scams, most financial companies and online retailers have advised customers to never provide personal information through an unsolicited email. Reputable companies will never ask for such information and consumers should be highly suspicious of any such requests on their behalf. Most banks and retailers ask that suspicious emails involving credit card accounts be reported to them in order for their internal security teams to stay abreast of the latest phishing techniques.

So how do you keep your personal information personal? Don't respond to any requests that you haven't initiated when it comes to providing sensitive data, such as date of birth, social security number, mother's maiden name or the 3-digit security code on the back of your card. Even if someone calls you up and says they are with your credit card company investigating a potential identity theft. This new scam being perpetrated involves stolen credit card numbers that are used to contact the real cardholders in order to obtain the security code on the back of the credit card. Once this code is obtained thieves can use a victim's credit card to shop online almost anywhere, completely anonymously.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Privacy Options -- How to Opt Out

Credit cards, ATM cards, and debit cards provide a high level of convenience for people, but if they are lost or stolen, the effects can be drastic. If you experience a loss or theft of credit cards, ATM cards, or debit cards, immediately report them to the credit card issuing companies. In addition, follow up your calls with letters detailing We get a lot of junk in the mail. Most of it probably ends up in the garbage. One thing you may be getting that you think is junk mail from your credit card company can actually be a credit card privacy notice that includes details of your privacy options. This is NOT junk mail. Most likely the details found in these notices will tell you how to opt out of future mailings and information sharing.

These notices explain many things. They explain:

  • What personal finance information the company collects
  • Whether they intend to share that information
  • What you can do to limit that sharing
  • How the company protects your personal financial information

Many companies MUST send out these notices. They include:

  • Banks
  • Credit Card Issuers
  • Insurance companies
  • Brokerage firms
  • Retail stores that issue their own credit cards
  • Mortgage brokers
  • Check cashers
  • Financial advisors

Why do they share my information?

There are many reasons companies might share your information—and not all of them are bad. They may want to offer you new services or introduce new products. And there is money to be made by sharing your information as well. But if you want to learn about their products, then you may want them to share your information. But if you don’t want a lot of junk mail from marketers, then you may want to limit the amount of information that is shared about you.

How can I limit the sharing of my information?

There are ways you can limit the information that is shared. To do that, you MUST read the privacy notices. They will tell you how the company will handle the sharing of your information.

There is certain information that you have the right to stop, or “opt-out” of. This includes information sent to:

  • Affiliates: part of the same corporate group as your financial company
  • Non-affiliates: not part of the same corporate group

But there is some information that companies don’t have give you the right to opt out of. Your financial company can give non-affiliates information such as:

  • Your payment history on loans and credit cards. This type of information goes to credit bureaus that monitor your credit report
  • Information demanded by a court order
  • Records of your payments to data processing firms

What does opting out do?

Opting out limits the extent to which a company can share your information. As stated before, it cannot completely stop them, but it will limit what they can send to non-affiliates. Usually you can opt-out within 30 days after you receive your privacy notice. If you don’t opt out within that time, they will share your information. But you can still opt out later. Just contact your financial company and ask them what you have to do.

So now what do I do?

There are certain steps you should follow when you receive privacy notices:

  1. Read the notice
  2. Ask your financial company any questions you might have
  3. Decide whether to opt out or not
  4. If you choose to opt out, follow the instructions provided with the notice

What if I need more help?

There are many places you can turn to if you are concerned about a company’s privacy policies. The best thing is to contact that company directly, but if that still doesn’t’ help you, then you can contact the federal or state agency that oversees that company’s industry. Here is a brief list of those agencies and their contact information for your reference:

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Regulates state-chartered banks that are members of the Federal Reserve System

Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, Stop 801
20th and C Streets, NW
Washington, DC 20551202-452-3693

Commodity Futures Trading Commission
Regulates commodity brokers, commodity trading advisors, commodity pools, and introducing brokers

Privacy Officer, Office of Chief Counsel
Division of Trading and Markets
Three Lafayette Center
1155 21st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20581

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Regulates state-chartered banks that are not members of the Federal Reserve System

Division of Compliance and Consumer Affairs
550 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20429
877-ASK-FDIC or 877-275-3342 toll-free

Federal Trade Commission
Regulates any financial company not covered by the other federal regulators such as mortgage brokers, tax and investment services, finance companies, credit bureaus, non-bank lenders, auto dealers, leasing companies, appraisers, real estate settlement services, credit counseling services, and collection agency services

Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
877-FTC-HELP or 877-382-4357 toll-free (see also)

National Credit Union Administration
Regulates federally chartered credit unions

Office of Public and Congressional Affairs
1775 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-3428

Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Regulates national banks. These typically include banks with "national" or "N.A." in their names.

Customer Assistance Group
1301 McKinney Street
Suite 3710
Houston, TX 77010
800-613-6743 toll-free

Office of Thrift Supervision
Regulates federal savings and loan associations and federal savings banks

Consumer Programs
1700 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20552
800-842-6929 toll-free

Securities and Exchange Commission
Regulates brokerage firms, mutual fund companies, and investment advisors

Office of Investor Education and Assistance
450 5th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20549-0213
202-942-9634 fax

What to Do When Credit Cards Are Lost or Stolen

Credit cards, ATM cards, and debit cards provide a high level of convenience for people, but if they are lost or stolen, the effects can be drastic. If you experience a loss or theft of credit cards, ATM cards, or debit cards, immediately report them to the credit card issuing companies. In addition, follow up your calls with letters detailing all critical card information including your account number, the date the credit card was missing, and the date the loss was reported.

Fortunately, a cardholder’s maximum liability for unauthorized use of a credit card is $50. If you report the loss before your credit cards are used, you have no responsibility for any unauthorized charges. Liability for unauthorized use of ATM or debit cards depends on how quickly the cardholder reports the loss. Losses can be heavy for ATM or debit cardholders if they are not reported in a timely manner.

Individuals who have reported credit cards lost or stolen should carefully review billing statements and report unauthorized charges to the card issuer along with all pertinent card information. Unauthorized transactions for ATM or debit cards will appear on bank statements, and should be reported to the bank that issued the card.

Prevent credit card fraud by always keeping the cards in a safe place, using an obscure Personal Identification Number (PIN) for ATM and debit cards, and memorizing your PIN. Never use your birth date, phone number, or social security number or any other easily determined number or word as your PIN.

The best way to keep your credit cards, ATM cards, and debit cards safe.

There are a few steps that you can take to prevent unauthorized use of the cards:

  • Only disclose your credit card or ATM card account number over the telephone if it is to a reputable company.
  • Never put your credit card account number on the outside of an envelope or on a postcard.
  • Draw a line through blank spaces on charge or debit slips above the total so the amount cannot be changed.
  • Destroy card carbons and save receipts to check against monthly statements.
  • Cut up old cards - cutting through the account number - before disposing of them.
  • Open monthly statements promptly and compare them with receipts.
  • Keep records of your cards’ account numbers, expiration dates, and the telephone numbers of each card issuer in a safe place.
  • Carry only the cards you expect to use.
  • Never carry your ATM or debit card PIN in your wallet or purse.
  • Do not write your PIN on the card or anyplace where it might be seen.
  • Check account activity frequently especially if you bank online.

A number of federal agencies enforce the laws that govern credit card and ATM or debit card transactions. Questions concerning a particular card issuer should be directed to the enforcement agency responsible for that issuer.

Limiting Your Financial Loss

When a credit card goes missing, the first thing you think of is: How can I limit my financial losses? Luckily, there are several ways you can protect yourself, your financial history and your credit from damage and protection under the law to help with any financial loss.

Steps You Can Take:

  • Report Loss/Theft of Credit Card - Report the loss or theft of your credit cards and your ATM or debit cards to the card issuers as quickly as possible. Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service to deal with such emergencies. It's a good idea to follow up your phone calls with a letter. Include your account number, when you noticed your credit card was missing and the date on which you first reported the loss.
  • Review Billing Statements - After the loss, review your billing statements carefully. If they show any unauthorized charges, it's best to send a letter to the credit card issuer describing each questionable charge. Again, tell the credit card issuer the date your card was lost or stolen, or when you first noticed unauthorized charges, and when you first reported the problem to them. Be sure to send the letter to the address provided for billing errors. Do not send it with a payment or to the address where you normally send your payments, unless you are directed to do so.
  • Check Homeowner’s Insurance Policy - Check your homeowner's insurance policy to see if it covers your liability for card thefts. If not, some insurance companies will allow you to change your policy to include this protection.

Federal Protection Facts:

Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) Your maximum liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your credit card is $50. If you report the loss before your credit cards are used, the FCBA says the card issuer cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized charges. If a thief uses your cards before you report them missing, the most you will owe for unauthorized charges is $50 per card. Also, if the loss involves your credit card number, but not the card itself, you have no liability for unauthorized use.

Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA)

Your liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your ATM or debit card depends on how quickly you report the loss. If you report an ATM or debit card missing prior to its fraudulent usage, the EFTA says the card issuer cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized transfers. If unauthorized use occurs before you report it, your liability under federal law depends on how quickly you report the loss.

For example, if you report the loss within two business days after realizing your card is missing, you will not be responsible for more than $50 worth of unauthorized use. However, if you don't report the loss within two business days after discovering the card missing, you could lose up to $500 of unauthorized transfer. You may also risk unlimited loss if you fail to report an unauthorized transfer within 60 days after your bank mails a statement containing unauthorized use to you. That means you could lose all the money in your bank account as well as the unused portion of your line of credit established for overdrafts. However, for unauthorized transfers involving only your debit card number (not the actual loss of the card), you are liable only for transfers that occur more than 60 days following the mailing of your unauthorized use-containing bank statement and before you report the loss.

If unauthorized transfers show up on your bank statement, report them to the card issuer as quickly as possible. Once you've reported the loss of your ATM or debit card, you cannot be held liable for additional unauthorized transfers that occur after that time.

Before you have that moment of panic, take the steps to protect your credit and your credit cards. Remember, your credit is extremely important and you don’t want someone else causing you trouble.