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Frequently Asked Questions From Consumers

Today, more than ever before, most of us count time as one of our most valuable assets. Direct marketing is unique in that it is a marketing method that allows consumers to gather information about goods and services, to make educated buying decisions, and to acquire the necessities and pleasures of life when and where we decide to do so -- even from our kitchen tables at 3 a.m.

In order for us to acquire the information necessary to make those buying decisions, direct marketers most frequently reach us by mail. We receive letters, catalogs, and advertisements that, in great detail, describe their products, services, and causes. Sometimes we receive this advertising as a result of answering an ad in a magazine, on television, or by computer. More often, the mail arrives because our names have appeared on lists that the direct marketer has chosen in the belief that the list category represents a large number of people who are likely to be interested in its offering. The goal of marketers is to reach those of us who are most likely to be interested in the offers that they make. General Direct Marketing Questions:

  • How Does Technology Increase Consumer Opportunities?
  • How Do Consumers Exercise Choice?
  • How Did They Get My Name?
  • Why Do Direct Marketers Rent and Exchange Lists?

    Direct Mail:

  • Mailing Lists and the Computer Age
  • What's on a Mailing List?
  • How Can You Restrict the Rental or Exchange of Your Name?
  • Do You Really Want to Get Off Mailing Lists?

    Telephone:

  • How Can You Receive Fewer National Advertiser Phone Calls?

    E-Mail:

  • How Can You Receive Less National Advertising E-Mail?

    Sweepstakes:

  • Telling the difference between a legitimate sweepstakes and a fraudulent sweepstakes

    Other Resources:

  • Links to credit bureaus, federal agencies and other organizations

     

    General Direct Marketing Questions

    How Does Technology Increase Consumer Opportunity?

    There are many instances where computers have vastly expanded the opportunities that are available to consumers. Credit cards, for example, are granted much more quickly than ever before because of computerized credit records.

    Credit pre-screening enables such businesses as credit card companies, department stores, and banks to offer consumers guaranteed credit lines. Here's how you might receive such an opportunity: a bank decides to expand its number of credit card holders by offering credit lines to potential customers who don't currently have a credit card with that company. The company decides upon the financial requirements that are acceptable for certain credit limits and rents a number of lists of consumers that research suggests might be interested in their offer. Your name and address is on one of those lists.

    In order to "pre-qualify" you and the other names on the lists, the bank first combines the names from all lists then deletes duplicate names. Then it submits the lists of thousands of names to one of the three major credit bureaus, where the lists are compared by computer to each individual's credit data. The computer assigns the amount of credit available to each name, using established bank guidelines. You then receive in the mail a credit card offer with a specific amount of credit -- guaranteed -- which you can accept or not, as you choose. The bank doesn't know your name unless you choose to respond.

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    How Do Consumers Exercise Choice?

    The technology that offers consumers vastly expanded opportunities also puts consumers in charge and gives them choices. For example, if you would prefer that your credit record not be used for the marketing purposes just described, all you need do is call toll-free, 1-888-5OPT-OUT, to reach the National Opt-Out Center. This hot line was established by the three major credit bureaus - Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union LLC. You can leave your name, address, phone number, and Social Security number, and your name will no longer be used for pre-screening or any other marketing purpose by any of these bureaus. You will, of course, retain the right to obtain credit approval for a purpose that you initiate, such as securing a mortgage or a car loan.

    Similarly, consumers can control the marketing phone calls they receive in their homes. Direct marketers supported rules made by the Federal Trade Commission that were mandated by the Telemarketing Sales Rule in 1996, and the Federal Communications Commission that were mandated by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1992. Marketers who solicit you in your home are required to give you the name of their company and their telephone number; all telephone marketers are required to maintain lists of people who request that they not be called again. Under the laws, the caller must keep a record of your request on a "do not call" list and may not make further telephone solicitations to your home. These laws also allow consumers to file suit and collect damages for violations of the ruling.

    The revised Telemarketing Sales Rule established a national Do-Not-Call registry which telephone marketers must use before calling consumers, to remove listed phone numbers. (See www.ftc.gov).

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    How Did They Get My Name?

    Lists of names and addresses are routinely compiled by marketers from countless sources. If you have a telephone (unless you have an unlisted number) your name and address are available to anyone with a pencil and a piece of paper. Indeed, one of the largest mailing lists in existence is simply a compilation of all the telephone-owning households listed in the nation's phone books.

    In most states, if you own a house, car, boat, or land, your name and address are available from public records. So are such publicly-recorded events as marriages, births, and divorces. All are available to anyone who wants to compile a mailing list from the source material.

    Your high school and college directories may list your name, address, and class. If you are a doctor, lawyer, dentist, engineer, or teacher, you probably belong to one or more professional societies or associations whose membership lists show your name and address. Do you practice a profession for which the state has granted a license? Have you joined any business organizations such as a local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club? Many of these membership lists, while not, strictly speaking, public records, are widely available to the public. It is just as likely that you have subscribed to a magazine, made a donation to a charity, answered a survey that came with an appliance warranty, sent some money to a political party, bought a gadget or a gift from a catalog. Your name, address, and purchase (or donation) information are automatically recorded on that company's computerized list, and it is very likely that you will hear from the marketers again -- their goal is to build long-term relationships with their customers (or donors). It is also likely that, from time to time, they will rent or exchange your name and address with other direct marketers.

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    Why Do Direct Marketers Rent and Exchange Lists?

    Clearly, it makes no economic sense to send out thousands of promotions to people who have no interest in your product, service or cause. Nor does it make environmental sense.

    Lists are nothing more than a way to identify a market for products and services. Direct marketing businesses succeed or fail by their ability to determine who is most likely to buy what they offer. So they rent or exchange lists of consumers whose interests have been narrowed by their earlier purchase behavior and other characteristics that might reasonably be assumed to make them likely prospects. For the direct marketing business person, lists of hundreds of thousands of names are the instruments that can create a thriving business by filling consumer needs. The by-product is the creation of jobs and healthy contributions to the American economy.

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    Direct Mail

    Mailing Lists in the Computer Age

    Not long ago, consumers were frequently annoyed by duplicate mailings. When a company rented two or more mailing lists, there was no cost-effective way to compare the names and addresses on the lists to ensure that only one mailing was made to each address. Not only were consumers annoyed at the waste, but it was very expensive for mailers. Computers changed all that.

    Today, sophisticated programs can sort and eliminate duplicate names and addresses with extraordinary speed, leaving just one name and address to receive the mailing.

    In addition, marketers can create new markets by matching what they have decided are the most likely characteristics of buyers for their products from a wide variety of lists. Many of the names on these lists are duplicates that are removed by computer matching.

    Specialized computer programs allow two things to happen. First, although the process is far from perfect, consumers today are more likely than ever before to receive advertising mail that is of interest to them. Second, even the smallest businesses can use the technology to create a market and compete successfully, thereby creating jobs and contributing to America's economic growth.

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    What's on a Mailing List?

    Mailing lists that are supplied to direct marketers contain names and full addresses. And lists commonly contain hundreds of thousands of names. When marketers rent a list, they have no interest in individual information -- only in the characteristics that put all those people on a particular list. For example, a list of subscribers to a ski magazine might represent a potential market for a sport's clothing catalog.

    The names on a list become individuals only when they reply to an offer and become customers. Then, good marketers want to serve you just as personally as small town merchants did long ago. They keep accurate records of your purchases and preferences in order to serve you as well as they can. For example, one direct marketing company uses its computerized records to remind busy customers of birthdays for which they have sent presents in previous years. But your purchase information is useful to them only when you are being served personally -- when you phone, for example. Otherwise, information is only of use to the marketer in the aggregate. The records of hundreds, even thousands of customers help them, for instance, to avoid being out-of-stock on popular items or to spot buying trends, to meet the needs of the large numbers of customers necessary to create a profitable business.

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    How Can You Restrict the Rental or Exchange of Your Name?

    The American system of government places a high value on the right of its citizens to receive information and the right of businesses to provide information. Indeed, the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees those rights. And many people enjoy and value advertising mail: 44% of the American population -- more than 90 million adults -- buy direct each year.

    Yet, direct marketing companies recognize that some customers just don't like the idea of having their names and addresses shared with other companies. There are still other consumers who simply do not shop direct. Today, both preferences can be satisfied.

    Many businesses (and the number keeps growing) that rent or exchange their customer lists will gladly remove a customer's name from those lists and, in fact, The DMA requires its members to do this. Most companies clearly announce this service on their customer information pages or on the order form or on their Web sites. The wording is different from one company to another, but the meaning is clear: they will abide by your wishes as a valued customer.

    The wording that follows is fairly typical:

    "Occasionally we make a portion of our mailing list available to carefully screened companies whose products or services we think might be of interest to you. If you prefer not to receive such mailings, please copy your mailing label exactly as it appears on the back of this catalog and send it to us at the address below."

    Reputable direct marketing companies carefully screen the companies that they allow to use their lists. Nearly every direct marketer wants to protect its customers -- a company's most valuable asset -- from receiving something that might be annoying, offensive or ethically questionable. That's why reputable companies that rent their customer lists always require that the renter first submit a sample of the offer for prior approval.

    If you would like to receive less advertising mail, then you can contact the companies with whom you wish to continue doing business and ask them not to rent or exchange your name with other companies. In addition, you may also use The Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service, which has been helping consumers limit the national advertising mail they receive since 1971.

    The DMA Mail Preference Service (MPS)

    The DMA Mail Preference Service will greatly reduce the amount of advertising mail a person receives from national marketers. You should realize that our MPS program will not eliminate all advertising mail, since not every direct marketing company participates in our service. To remove your name from smaller local mailers, you should contact them directly.

    When you add your name and home address to the MPS file, we send it to participating direct marketing businesses either four times a year, or monthly (per their request). Companies that participate in the MPS program will match their lists against the MPS list and remove your name and home address from their lists so that you don't receive any direct mail from them, or from other companies that may rent their lists. Your name stays on the file for five years. It is important to note that all companies that are members of The DMA are required to use MPS, which is why you know that if you are buying from one of our members, they are likely to be a reputable direct marketing company.

    How To Register For Mail Preference Service

    The fastest way to register for this service is to register online. There is a $5.00 service charge and your request will be processed in 30 days or less. If you prefer, you may register for this consumer service by completing and printing the online form and following the mailing instructions to register free-of-charge. Please note that your request will be processed in approximately 90 days if registering by mail. Or you may register for MPS by mailing a written request including your name, complete home address, and signature to: DMA Mail Preference Service, Box 643 Carmel, NY 10512-0643.

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    Do You Really Want to Get Off Mailing Lists?

    If your name goes on The DMA's Mail Preference Service you will no longer receive mailings about magazines that may interest you. Most discount coupons that save you money at the stores will stop coming and so will the catalogs that make holiday shopping easier. This means that you will not receive free product samples or offers for new books or DVDs.

    For many people advertising mail is fun, informative, and a convenience. It gives you time to consider a purchase carefully without any sales pressure. You can make your selections and order from your home at any hour of the day or night, any day of the week. If a piece of mail doesn't interest you, simply toss it into the recycling bin. The choice is yours.

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    Telephone

    How Can You Receive Fewer National Advertising Phone Calls?

    Some consumers find telephone shopping to be a convenient way to shop. However, some consumers would like to receive fewer telephone marketing calls at home. The Telephone Preference Service (TPS), a do-not-call service established in 1985, is a service to assist those consumers in decreasing the number of national commercial calls received at home. When you register with TPS, your name, address and telephone number are placed on a do-not-call file for five years. This file is provided four times a year (or monthly) to telephone marketing companies who choose to use it. It is important to note that all companies that are members of The DMA are required to use TPS, which is why you know that if you are buying from one of our members, they are likely to be a reputable direct marketing company.

    How To Register For Telephone Preference Service

    The fastest way to register for this service is to register online. There is a $5.00 service charge and your request will be processed in 30 days or less. If you prefer, you may register for this consumer service by completing and printing the online form and following the mailing instructions to register free-of-charge. Please note that your request will be processed in approximately 90 days if registering by mail. Or you may register for TPS by mailing a written request including your name, complete home address, phone number and signature to: DMA Telephone Preference Service, Box 1559 Carmel, NY 10512-1559.

    The FTC's Do-Not-Call List and Company-Specific Lists

    You can register with the Federal Trade Commission for its National Do-Not-Call registry. Go to www.donotcall.gov to register. And, as noted under How Do Consumers Exercise Choice?, telephone marketers are required to maintain lists of people who ask not to be called again.

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    E-Mail

    How Can You Receive Less National Advertising E-Mail?

    Many consumers find online shopping to be a convenient way to shop. However, some consumers would like to receive fewer unsolicited commercial e-mails. The e-Mail Preference Service (e-MPS), which began in 2000, will reduce the amount of unsolicited commercial e-mail a person receives from national marketers. When you register with e-MPS, your e-mail address is added to the e-MPS file for a period of two years. Companies that participate in the e-MPS program, which includes many of the nation's largest direct marketing companies, will match their lists against the e-MPS list and remove your e-mail address from their lists so that you don't receive any e-mail from them, or from other companies that may rent their e-mail lists. It is important to note that all companies that are members of The DMA are required to use e-MPS, which is why you know that if you are buying from one of our members, they are likely to be a reputable direct marketing company.

    To remove your name and e-mail address from companies that don't participate in e-MPS, you should contact these individual e-mailers directly.

    How To Register For e-Mail Preference Service

    To register for this free service, click here: e-Mail Preference Service.

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    Sweepstakes

    Telling the difference between a legitimate sweepstakes and a fraudulent sweepstakes

    Fraudulent operators have become adept at disguising their schemes to look like sweepstakes. While fraudulent promotions can seem very similar to legitimate sweepstakes, scam offers usually require an up-front entry fee. Many times, the entrant is asked to pay "taxes" or "shipping and handling charges" for the prize. After the consumer pays, no prize ever comes and the promoter is difficult to contact.

    Some scam artists try to confuse consumers by using variations of nationally recognized names or by claiming to represent a known sweepstakes sponsor. When in doubt, call the sweepstakes sponsor directly to verify.

    Remember, legitimate sweepstakes sponsors never require an entry fee or payment to claim a prize.

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    Also, you may want to view Sweepstakes Assistance: A Caregiver's Guide for more information about this important issue.

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    Other Resouces

    This is a list of other organizations and government offices that may be of assistance to you.

    CREDIT BUREAUS

    You may contact the credit bureaus individually, see information below, or call their toll-free number at 1-888-5OPT-OUT to reach the National Opt-Out Center. This hot line was established by Equifax, Experian and Trans Union Corporation to assist consumers in removing their names from the three major credit bureaus' pre-screening or other marketing lists.

      Equifax
      Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc.
      P.O. Box 740241
      Atlanta, GA 30374
      800.685.1111 (for general inquiries)
      800.567.8688 (for opting-out of mailing lists)

      Experian
      Experian National Consumer Assistance Center
      901 West Bond Street
      Lincoln, NE 68521
      1.800.787.6864

      Trans Union Corporation
      TransUnion LLC's Name Removal Option
      P.O. Box 97328
      Jackson, MS 39288-7328

    FEDERAL AGENCIES

      Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
      The Federal Communications Commission regulates interstate, international and in some instances intrastate communications relating to radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC has created a number of bureaus and offices within its organization to develop, implement, enforce and communicate to consumers and businesses these regulations that govern our communications industry.

    • Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau
      445 12th Street, SW
      Washington, DC 20554
      1-888-CALL-FCC (Voice) (225-5322)
      1-888-TELL-FCC (TTY)
      e-mail: fccinfo@fcc.gov
      www.fcc.gov

      Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
      The Federal Trade Commission enforces a variety of federal antitrust and consumer protection laws. The Commission seeks to ensure that the nation's markets function competitively, and are vigorous, efficient, and free of undue restrictions. The Commission also works to enhance the smooth operation of the marketplace by eliminating acts or practices that are unfair or deceptive.

    • FTC's Consumer Protection Information/Frequently Asked Questions

      Bureau of Consumer Protection
      Federal Trade Commission
      CRC-240
      600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
      Washington, D.C. 20580
      Toll free number: 877-FTC-HELP (382-4357)
      www.ftc.gov

      U.S. Postal Inspection Service

      The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service. It investigates fraudulent promotions that use the postal system.
      Inspection Service Operations Support Group Attn: Mail Fraud
      222 S. Riverside Plaza, Suite 1250
      Chicago, IL 60606-6100
      Toll free number: 800-372-8347
      www.usps.com/postalinspectors

      OTHER ORGANIZATIONS

        BBBOnLine
        The mission of the Better Business Bureau is "to promote and foster the highest ethical relationship between businesses and the public ...". The Better Business Bureau provides instant access to business and consumer alerts as well as helpful resources. Plus, you can file a complaint online and more.

        Call for Action
        Call for Action is a network of radio and television station hotlines which offer resolution services for consumer problems. Call for Action's national office is located at: 5272 River Road, Suite 300, Bethesda, MD 20816.

        National Consumers League's National Fraud Information Center (NFIC)
        The National Fraud Information Center is a project of the National Consumers League, America's oldest non-profit consumer organization. NFIC helps consumers report fraud and offers helpful advice on how to avoid becoming a victim. NFIC's toll-free number is 1-800-876-7060.

        National Consumers League's Internet Fraud Watch (IFW)
        IFW helps consumers shop and browse safely online and provides information about how to detect and report suspected online fraud. IFW's toll-free number is 1-800-876-7060. Go to www.fraud.org.

        The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC)
        The PRC is a consumer education, research, and advocacy program that helps consumers learn how to protect their personal privacy.

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