By Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW
If you are like me, you get lots of different, unsolicited offers in the mail nearly every day. New credit card offers, loans, insurance, and they often say you are “prequalified” and have been “pre-screened.” The following is information is from the Federal Trade Commission about what these offers mean and how you stop the receiving them in the mail.
What is a “prescreened” offer of credit?
Many companies that solicit new credit card accounts and insurance policies use prescreening to identify potential customers for the products they offer. Prescreened offers — sometimes called “preapproved” offers — are based on information in your credit report that indicates you meet criteria set by the company.
How does prescreening work?
Prescreening works in one of two ways:
• a creditor or insurer establishes criteria, like a minimum credit score, and asks a consumer reporting company for a list of people in the company’s database who meet the criteria; or
• a creditor or insurer provides a list of potential customers to a consumer reporting company and asks the company to identify people on the list who meet certain criteria.
Can I reduce the number of unsolicited credit and insurance offers I get?
If you decide that you don’t want to receive prescreened offers, you have two choices: You can opt out of receiving them for five years or opt out of receiving them permanently.
• To opt out for five years: Call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit http://www.optoutprescreen.com. The phone number and website are operated by the major consumer reporting companies.
• To opt out permanently: Begin the permanent Opt-Out process online at http://www.optoutprescreen.com. To complete your request, you must return the signed Permanent Opt-Out Election form, which will be provided after you initiate your online request.
When you call or visit the website, you’ll be asked to provide certain personal information, including your home telephone number, name, Social Security number, and date of birth. The information you provide is confidential and will be used only to process your request to opt out.
If you don’t have access to the Internet, you may send a written request to permanently opt out to each of the major consumer reporting companies listed here:
Experian, Opt Out, P.O. Box 919, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion, Name Removal Option, P.O. Box 505, Woodlyn, PA 19094
Equifax, Inc., Options, P.O. Box 740123, Atlanta, GA 30374-0123
Innovis Consumer Assistance, P.O. Box 495,Pittsburgh, PA 15230-0495
Make sure your request includes your home telephone number, name, Social Security number, and date of birth.
Why would someone opt out — or not?
Some people prefer not to receive these kinds of offers in the mail, especially if they are not in the market for a new credit card or insurance policy. This reduces the mailbox clutter. But please remember, some companies send offers that are not based on prescreening, and your federal opt-out right will NOT stop those kinds of solicitations.
If I decide to opt out, how long will it be before I stop getting prescreened offers?
Requests to opt out are processed within five days, but it may take up to 60 days before you stop receiving prescreened offers.
Will calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT or visiting http://www.optoutprescreen.com stop all unsolicited offers of credit and insurance?
Calling the opt-out line or visiting the website will stop the prescreened solicitations that are based on lists from the major consumer reporting companies. You may continue to get solicitations for credit and insurance based on lists from other sources. For example, opting out won’t end solicitations from local merchants, religious and charitable associations, professional and alumni associations, and companies with which you already conduct business. To stop mail from groups like these — as well as mail addressed to “occupant” or “resident” — you must contact each source directly.
What other opt-out programs should I know about?
The Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service (MPS) lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies for five years. When you register with this service, your name will be put on a “delete” file and made available to direct-mail marketers and organizations. This will reduce most of your unsolicited mail. However, your registration will not stop mailings from organizations that do not use the DMA’s Mail Preference Service. To register with DMA’s Mail Preference Service, go towww.dmachoice.org, or mail your request with a $1 processing fee to:
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
The DMA also has an Email Preference Service (eMPS) to help you reduce unsolicited commercial emails. To opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial email from DMA members, visit http://www.dmachoice.org. Registration is free and good for six years.
Some people have told me they “just throw” the offers away and do not want to take the time to “opt out.” Just remember, these offers can be stolen by mail box thieves and they can then steal your offer and your identity.
On a personal note, while I have not taken this step because I like to see what is coming to people, my husband did register. He seldom gets any offers, but I do.