Did you know there are legal steps you can take to prevent being taken advantage of by unscrupulous debt collectors, marketers, or thieves? The following are five proactive suggestions:
You can remove yourself from unsolicited advertising fax lists. There is a federal law, called the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, codified at 47 USCS § 227 (2001).
It includes “telephone communications,” “telephone facsimile,” and “unsolicited advertisement” amongst its offenders.
Federal law, and many states’ laws, permit an action to be brought under this statute in state court, including small claims court, to enjoin (stop) such actions. The statute allows for awards of punitive damages of $500 for each unsolicited fax and an award of up to $1500 should the fax advertiser act knowingly and willfully.
All you have to do is let the offender know you know of this statute and your rights, and that if they continue to send unsolicited faxes, you intend to exercise your rights. This is best done in writing, leaving yourself a paper trail.
Add Yourself to the National Do Not Call Registry
Federal law also prohibits telemarketers from calling you at home once you’ve added your number to the national Do Not Call Registry. You can do this by calling888.382.1222, or online at https://www.donotcall.gov/default.aspx.
Its Web-site states: “The National Do Not Call Registry gives you a choice about whether to receive telemarketing calls at home. Most telemarketers should not call your number once it has been on the registry for 31 days. If they do, you can file a complaint at this Web-site. You can register your home or mobile phone for free.”
Regularly Check Your Social Security Statement
Your personal Social Security Statement provides a record of past earnings and estimated future benefits based on things such as retirement or disability. The Social Security Administration recommends checking your statement at least once every three years; however, we recommend checking annually. After several years, it becomes much more challenging to dispute any errors in earnings. A Social Security Statement is available upon request by calling 800.772.1213, or online at
For more information on exactly what type of information the statement provides, go to http://www.ssa.gov/mystatement/ .
You can also block online access to your personal information, but be cautioned that no one, including yourself, can then access that information online. You will have to do it in person or by phone if you choose this option. You can block all online access here: https://secure.ssa.gov/acu/IPS_INTR/blockaccess
Remove Your Name from Marketing Lists
You can remove your name or “opt out” of receiving marketing or promotional items. To do this, call the credit bureaus “opt out” number at 888.5.optout (888.567.8688).
You may also write the three major credit agencies not to share your personal information for any type of marketing purposes. Here is a sample letter to help you:
To Whom It May Concern:
RE: Opt Out of Disclosure of My Personal Information
I hereby opt out of the sale, rental, distribution, exchange or other disclosure of any and all personal information you have about me. This includes but is not limited to my name, home address and phone, work address and phone, email addresses, social security number, driver’s license number, financial account and access numbers and my transaction history with you.
Please promptly confirm in writing that you will not disclose my personal information without my express consent.
Full Name:___________________________ Signature: ________________________
Address: ___________________________ Date: ________________________
Keep a copy for yourself, and send your letter to:
1. Equifax, P.O. Box 105, Atlanta, GA 30348-0241; Phone: 800.685.1111.
2. Experian, P.O. Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013-2104; Phone: 888.397.3742.
3. Trans Union,P.O. Box 390, Springfield, PA 19064-0390; Phone: (800) 916-8800.
File a Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s federal consumer protection agency, takes complaints about companies, business practices, identity theft, and episodes of media violence or impropriety. Those complaints assist the FTC with detecting, investigating, and prosecuting wrongdoing. The FTC hosts a secure online database that is utilized by thousands of law enforcement agencies around the world;
You may file an anonymous complaint; however, if you do so, it may make investigation difficult or even impossible.
To file a complaint with the FTC online, go to https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/
Telephone Consumer Protection Act 47 U.S.C. § 227 http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/policy/TCPA-Rules.pdf
Social Security Statement info http://www.ssa.gov/mystatement/
Who’s Calling? Recognize and Report Telephone Fraud http://www.ftc.gov/phonefraud
Identity theft secrets, guest writer, Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP, is a paralegal in Houston with experience in commercial litigation and tax law. She holds a degree in paralegal studies and a bachelor of science degree in political science. After interning with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges and completing the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute, she is preparing to enter law school this fall. Sami holds a national advanced paralegal certification, and four specialty certifications: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; and Social Security Disability Law.