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Stopping unwanted sales calls, mail can protect your credit

May. 19, 2008 - 02:38PM   |   Last Updated: May. 19, 2008 - 02:38PM  |  

We get pummeled from every angle by people trying to sell us something — or scam us — through e-mail, snail mail and by phone.

As the military moving season gears up, consider removing some of these time-wasters and clutter collectors. But more importantly, strive to lessen your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft.

Aside from filters and "delete" buttons, you can't do much about spam e-mail. But you can do something about junk mail and calls from telemarketers.

Be particularly careful about junk mail before you move. If you get offers for credit cards and all sorts of loans and that mail is sitting in your mailbox after you move, or if someone goes through your trash, it could cause a problem.

Think what could happen if someone intercepted this mail and used it to hijack your credit rating. They could get lines of credit in your name, and you might not know about it until a whole lot of damage was done that could take years and thousands of dollars to untangle.

Opt out of these pre-screened offers by calling (888) 5-OPT-OUT [(888) 567-8688] or visit http://www.optoutprescreen.com">http://www.optoutprescreen.com. It's a joint venture of the credit reporting agencies. You can also opt in for these pre-screened offers.

And get a shredder to destroy any such offers, or anything with personal information, before discarding it.

Some people like to get calls from telemarketers. If you don't, register your personal phone numbers — home and cell — on the National Do Not Call Registry. Register online at http://www.donotcall.gov">http://www.donotcall.gov, or by calling (888) 382-1222 from the phone number that you want to put on the registry.

Can't remember whether your phone number is on the registry? You can use the Web site or phone number to verify whether it is registered.

If your phone has been disconnected and reconnected, you may want to verify that your number is still on the registry. The Federal Trade Commission, which manages the National Do Not Call Registry, removes telephone numbers that have been disconnected and reassigned to other customers.

Once you move, you'll have to register your new number.

Telemarketers and sellers are required by law to search the registry at least once every 31 days, and they must drop from their call lists any phone numbers of consumers who have registered.

Initially, consumers could be on the list only for five years — and the five-year anniversary of the registry is coming up this summer. But a law was enacted in February that makes the registry permanent.

Under the new law, your phone number will stay on the registry unless you delete it or give it up.

If you receive a call from a company that you believe has violated the law by calling you, you can file a complaint with the FTC via the National Do Not Call Registry Web site or phone number.

Even if you're registered, you may still get calls from individuals trying to pry information out of you. Never give any personal information to someone who calls you. If you provide information such as your Social Security number, a thief could use it to steal your identity, run up new bills in your name and create a horrible mess with your credit.

You're probably getting calls from political organizations. They are one of the few entities exempt from the registry requirements, as are charities and legitimate telephone surveyors who aren't selling anything.

Companies with which you have an existing business relationship also are allowed to call. A company may call you for up to 18 months after you've made a purchase or three months after you submit an inquiry or application. And companies may call if you've given them permission.

All of this is about keeping good credit ratings intact, and part of that involves keeping tabs on your credit reports and credit score. Each year, you're allowed a free credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies. To make sure you've got access through the legitimate free portal, go to http://www.ftc.gov">http://www.ftc.gov for information.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA, formerly known as NASD, offers free credit scores to service members and their families through a partnership with the nonprofit InCharge Institute of America, which developed a product called BrightScore. The product normally costs $19.95.

Troops and families can access this report through their personal financial manager, generally at their base family center, or through one of the free financial seminars periodically held by FINRA at installations, or by sending an e-mail to credit@finra.org">credit@finra.org.

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