Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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How to avoid the danger of buying a laptop online

“I purchased a PC,” writes Tom, “from Dell via their website.” He used a credit card with a Commercial Mail Receiving Agency (CMRA) as both the billing and the shipping address. The next day he started getting calls from some call center.

“Finally after 8 or so calls, I did answer and it was Dell Customer Support. On the other end was a man from India with a fake British accent, and he was calling to verify the order and address.”

Tom answered those two questions and ended the call. However, the Dell agent called back and said he knew that the address Tom gave was that of a CMRA. He would therefore have to verify Tom’s identify by having him list “every address I have ever had since living in the US (mind you I was born in the US), and especially would need to tell them my home phone number and home address.”

When Tom refused, the agent said, “Sir, I have all of this information on my computer screen. Just verify it, so we can process your order and ship it.” Tom says that when he asked the agent how he obtained all such information, he was told that “the government allows us to access their national database which lists all of the information on every citizen, and we use this information to prevent fraudulent orders and to verify identities and addresses."

Tom canceled the order, but writes, “To further tick me off...and scare all of us, this person I found out later tonight, called my parents house and left a message regarding my Dell purchase and a few questions they needed answered. Thankfully my parents did not answer the phone nor did they return the call, instead they called me ASAP, and informed me of the call. Now this is what’s scary, I have not lived at my parents house for over a decade and they live in another state.”

Tom concluded by saying that thanks to my advice in How To Be Invisible, “they obviously were not able to track my cell or virtual number both of which are assigned to two different CMRAs in two different towns.”

The above was taken from my Q&A page. When I posted it, a reader from Texas wrote, “Dell most likely used a Lexis Nexis product such as Accurint and your parents contact information appeared in the search. Lexis Nexis has some products that collections agencies and financial institutions use to find people.”

Conclusion:

Dell makes some fine products. In fact, I recently purchased a Dell laptop with the XP operating system and a solid state hard drive. However, I did not place the order myself. Instead, a friend ordered it for me—a friend who is not a privacy buff. He uses his home address for everything else, so what was one more package delivered by FedEx?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Can a pen name protect a writer's privacy?


Perhaps, but it is not as easy as you think. The first challenge will be to keep your real name from the literary agent (and without an agent, forget about selling to a major publisher).

Example:

Your name is George E. Gardner. Your chosen pen name will be Susan Simpson. When you get an agent you will have to sign a contract. The agent will assume the name you give her is your true name but do not do that. Instead, you give her "Robert L. Anderson." (Reason: She will pass the Anderson name on to the publisher, along with your pen name of Susan Simpson, regardless of your instructions to keep your true name private.)

The contract and the copyright

Use a New Mexico limited liability company with a ghost address for your copyright. This LLC name will show up on the reverse side of the title page of your book. However, do not let the agent send you royalty checks in the name of the LLC. Instead, have them sent to your wife (if you are married), or to G.E. Gardner, "the owner of the LLC. " Use the correct SSN, which you will need to give the agent.

Result:

Even though the agent now has a correct SSN and thus all will be well with the IRS, she will have given the publisher both your pen name and what she THINKS is your true name. Although checks will go to "G.E. Gardner" at some faraway ghost address, there will be no clue that this person is anyone other than the owner of the NM LLC.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Can you live without a bank account?


As I say in my book How To Be Invisible, "Hundreds of thousands of American citizens, as well as a similar number of illegal aliens, manage to live without any bank account at all, and not all are financially disadvantaged."

This is one way to ensure that you do not accidentally reveal your home address by writing a check for the rent, taxes, home repair, or whatever.

Any normal purchases can be made in cash, including gas, car repairs, appliances, and even expensive electronics. If a few bills must be paid by mail, money orders can be used.

For convenience, of course, a bank account is important. Some use an account in Canada and withdrawn funds at ATMs. Others keep an account in a small faraway bank, as described in Invisible Money. And a few intrepid souls use the ultimate in privacy, a nominee account.