05 April 2007

Chickenhawk's favorite meat

I was chuckling earlier about the randomness of what I get het up about: this time it was calling ski passes "pass products" on a resort web site. I was drafting a withering e-mail to their marketing department in my mind when the phone rescued me from that futile alley of thought and action. Silly, no?

But the phone call has me thinking about identity theft, spurred by my dear heart's, "Hi, honey, you didn't just try to change our security code on our bank account, did you?"

"Why no, I didn't." (Actually it was, "Nooooo, I don't thiiiiink sooooo.....," with much more uncertainty.) And I can so easily imagine ways in which we are vulnerable. It's a good thing my sweetie is meticulous in his accounting.

Someone not so long ago stole a card from us (and we suspect our vacation opportunities: a desk clerk at a hotel with our imprint? a guy doing data entry for a car rental outfit?) to subscribe to an online porn site. We canceled the card, but you just never know what's out there.

Now I'm at the FTC's Identity Theft site, with the hey-everyone-let's-pretend-we're-in-a-thriller title, "Deter. Detect. Defend. Avoid ID Theft." It is clearly time to check up on our numbers to make sure no one's using us for their nefarious purposes. It's like walking around as a woman and worrying about rape: it sucks to think about, but you must sooner or later.

So I'm looking up my credit report, easy as pie, and it's amazingly detailed. Fortunately, I see only what I would have expected to see, which is a relief because six years ago I had a wallet stolen at a movie theater and have always wondered about that ever since, even though we cancelled that credit card immediately. I scanned down to the bottom of the report to see who had looked me up, found a long list of credit card services, and then this in its own little category: "Account Review Inquiries":
1800 EXIT 5 PKWY
FISHERS, IN 46038-7938
(phone number not available)

Hmmm, which boiler-room operation is this? One of those real estate deals where you get a free vacation if you listen to a two-hour, high-pressure sales presentation? A travel "promotion": "Mrs. X, you've won a vacation to Las Vegas, Nevada, or Orlando, Florida!" If those offers sound too good to be true, they usually are. "Just say no" is an fine strategy for dealing with anyone who tries to sell you on anything over the phone. I find "No, thank you, not at this time, and please take me off your calling list" works pretty well, and now that I'm on the no-call list, I only get calls from the charities. (And that slimy, pesky Fraternal Order of Police has let up on their charity calls, too, thank goodness -- I think I finally did get myself off their list. I never liked them because some outlandish percentage of the money went to overhead and not directly to the services they claimed to be championing.)

Information can be a good thing, but I do think my DH is right that a privacy-management tool is the next killer app. Just think, you could manage your financial records and medical records -- it's just that making it hack-proof is a tall order; it's also hard to convince all those big agencies and private corporations to play nice enough to standardize the kind of information that can be shared across agencies. My sweetie suggested that being able to trade on your data would be what made it profitable: you could then sell what you're comfortable with. You could release information about your spending habits in exchange for a privilege or some income. Integrate it with the Mail Preference Service and you could also say things like, only charities get to ask me for money. Opt-Out of Credit Card Prescreenings is what I was really looking for; I don't mind a few catalogs and local coupons in the mail (otherwise we would not have received that free dinner for four at a new local restaurant, for example). But I might as well get the credit card offers to stop before having to pitch one to three a day on average into my recycling bin.

And it will be interesting to check my credit report again in a year to see if getting off that list reduces the number of inquiries about my history by the credit card merchants.

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