Keep Those Cards at Home
I just bought a new microwave oven. Inside the box was a product registration card saying that if I wanted warranty protection I'd need to fill out the card and mail it within 10 days. The card asked all sorts of nosy questions—like my annual income, marital status, ages of my children, and the types of credit cards I own. Do I have to give them any of this information?
No. In fact, you don't have to fill out a registration card to qualify for warranty protection. In most cases all you need is a receipt indicating when and where you bought the product and how much you paid for it. These cards are really just marketing surveys in disguise. Most go directly to data mining companies, who use the
you provide to send you more junk mail, telemarketing pitches, and spam.
One exception to this rule is software. If you purchase software from a major vendor like Microsoft or Symantec, you may be compelled to register your copy online or it will stop working. Such procedures are used to combat software piracy (as well as compel users to renew their software subscriptions). If you must register, give the bare information necessary to activate your software, and be sure to opt out of any offers to add you to their mailing lists (unless you really want more junk in your life).
Get Debt Collectors Off Your Back
For six months I've been getting calls from a collection agency for a debt owed by John J. Johnson. As I've explained to them many times, my
is John Q. Johnson, and I live in an entirely different city than John J. Yet the calls keep coming. What can I do to stop this
Write the collection agency a letter asking them to stop dunning you, and explain why. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, after an agency receives such a request it can only contact you to say that the matter has been dropped, that it's planning to sue you, or to send proof of your debt, such as a copy of an unpaid bill. This written notice doesn't relieve you of an obligation to pay
, it just stops the agency from nagging you about them.
The FDCPA has a number of other provisions to shield your privacy:
If you have an attorney, you can tell the collector to contact him or her, not you.
The agent may contact other people you know, but only to ask them how to reach you.
and family are under no obligation to tell the agent anything, and in most cases the agent can't contact them more than once.
Agents may not
other than you or your attorney about why they are calling.
Agents can't call you at work if you tell them not to.
An agent cannot threaten, harass, or curse at you, or threaten to sue you or take your property unless he or she is planning to do so—provided the agent has a legal right to do it.
If you feel a collection agency has violated the law, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Sentinel (http://www.consumer.gov/sentinel/). For more information, see the FTC's FAQ on fair debt collection practices (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/fdc.htm).
While you're at it, order a copy of your credit report to make sure that the other John Johnson's records aren't mixed up with yours. A June 2004 study by the Public Research Interest
found that more than half of all credit
contained personal information that was
, or belonged to someone else.
Hello, My Name Is Brad, and I'll Be Your Thief This Evening
I hand my credit card to a waiter, he disappears for a few minutes, then comes back with a slip for me to sign. A few months later mystery charges start showing up on my bank statement. Is there a connection?
That waiter might have done more than stick his thumb in your soup; he may have also put his hand in your pocket. In a scam known as
, credit cards are swiped twice—once in the normal card scanner, and once in a pager-
device that captures your account information. Skimming can happen
cards are accepted, but it seems to be most widely
, most likely because the swipe usually occurs out of sight of the card holder.
In February 2004, San Jose police busted two credit fraud rings operating in Bay Area restaurants. College-age waiters were paid $10 for every card they skimmed. That information was used to create counterfeit or clone cards, which the ringleaders used to buy swag to then sell over the Internet.
Skimming accounts for an estimated $1 billion worth of losses each year, though the biggest danger for individuals is identity fraud. The only solution is to keep a close eye on your credit accounts and challenge any unusual charges. If you dispute charges within the time period specified by your bank (usually 60 days), you'll only be liable for $50 of it. These days most banks will
the entire charge if fraud is involved.
You might also want to keep a close eye on your waiter, or consider taking your credit card to the cashier yourself.
Get Ready for Your Close-Up
telegenic until I walked down a busy street and noticed a video camera perched above the sidewalk every 10 feet or so. Where I live it's too hot to walk around
a ski mask, so how do I handle this constant
Well, you could break into a song and
routine. That's what the New York City Surveillance Camera Players do to publicize the pervasiveness of hidden cameras. (Another troupe has
in San Francisco—you can find them at http://www.survile.org.) Bill Brown, who founded the SCP back in 1996, says the first thing people need to do is figure out where the cameras are. He conducts periodic
of camera sites in different New York neighborhoods. You'll also find maps showing camera locations in Boston, Chicago, New York, Washington, DC, and other cities on his site at http://www.notbored.org/maps-usa.html (see Figure 5-4.) But besides trying to avoid
are placed (virtually
in some cities) or becoming a street performer, there's not much ordinary
can do except lobby for laws that restrict the use of camera footage.
Even your pepperoni isn't private anymore. In April 2004, the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator
Dallas-based ACS Inc. to track down citizens who haven't paid their
. ACS does this by combing through consumer databases—in particular, pizza delivery records. (Apparently Missourians don't give their correct address to
officials, but they do give it to the pizza guy.)
The Missouri courts aren't the only ones exploring the Dominos Effect. The Ponemon Institute's Larry Ponemon says Federal law enforcement agencies are also looking at pizza deliveries as a way to catch terrorists, who apparently like to order pies and pay by credit card. So the
time you go for that lamb-and-feta-cheese special, don't put it on the plastic—unless you want to share a few slices with the Feds.
What's the big deal? While cameras are theoretically placed in public spaces to
crime, many are also used for more covert purposes—such as recording the images and license plate
of political protestors. Over the last two
police have videotaped protests in Denver, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Washington, DC, according to EPIC's Protestor Privacy Page (http://www.epic.org/privacy/protest). Cameras are also abused for more personal reasons (see "Privacy in Peril: Entertaining the Troopers"). For more information on pervasive (and invasive) surveillance, see Privacy International's site (http://www.privacy.org/pi/activities/cctv) and EPIC's Observing Surveillance site (http://observingsurveillance.us).
annoyances 5-4. Want to be seen in DC? This map will show you where to mug for the police cameras. Though the map shows only 16 locations, there are likely to be hundreds more private security cameras aimed at unsuspecting pedestrians.
As if junk mail, telemarketing, and spam weren't enough of an assault on your personal space, Islip, New York-based Healthquest Technologies has patented the Wizmark (http://www.wizmark.com/electronic.htm), a 3.5-inch
screen mounted inside a urinal that displays electronic advertising. The screen is activated by... well, you can guess how it's activated. On the bright side, there's no better opportunity to express exactly how you feel about such ads.
In September 2003, state troopers in Tuscaloosa, Alabama found a creative use for one of the city's traffic cams. A video camera normally trained on an intersection near the University of Alabama campus was instead used to zoom in on bar-goers in the wee hours of the morning. According to eyewitnesses at
The Crimson White
, the school newspaper that first reported the story, the camera spent a lot of time zeroing in on the fleshier
pedestrians. An unnamed officer in the Trooper's headquarters responsible for the misuse of the camera was apparently unaware the cam was also broadcasting on local cable channel 45. That evening, the same traffic cam
in three arrests—including a 22-year-old
detained for flashing her breasts at the camera. After a public outcry, the city of Tuscaloosa disabled the troopers' ability to control the camera.
Number of RFID tags
to be in use by 2010
Colleges and universities that gave student records to the FBI without a court order in 2002.
Flights Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy was kept off as a result of the No Fly list
Cars on road in 2004 with event data
1 in 3
Health care organizations that suffered a data security breach in 2004
Complaints regarding HIPPA violations as of April 2004
Civil penalties imposed on HIPPA violators as of April 2004
Estimated number of public video surveillance cameras in Manhattan