Monday, July 19, 2010

My personal solution to stopping junk mail

The first step is to stop junk mail before it starts. If I order something by mail, it includes this notice in large letters:

Do not rent, sell, lend, or give my name and address to anyone else. Do not put me on your own mailing list. If this is not acceptable, then DO NOT ACCEPT THIS ORDER. Instead, return my payment.

Once in awhile I will receive junk mail without being sure where the sender got my address. Sometimes, if a self-addressed envelope is enclosed, I return the section that shows my name and address, with this message:


If no envelope is enclosed, I may cut out both the return address and my address (including code numbers). The return address is taped on to a new envelope and my address is included inside, with the above message. This can be handwritten or you can use a printed sticker or a rubber stamp. And yes, I add 44 cents postage—it’s worth it to stop junk mail.

More often, however, I just return the unopened mail to sender. For this, you need some blank address stickers and a black marker that makes a thick line. You put the sticker below the first line, to cover just the address. Then you black out the postal code that looks like a bar code because otherwise, the letter will come back to you. On the blank sticker, you use a rubber stamp (or print by hand):


Last but not least:

When I mention “my name and address,” I refer to some name other than my own, and to my ghost address. No mail ever arrives at my true home address and never will. (No mailbox!)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What not to carry in your wallet or purse

One of my good friends in Everett, Washington kindly wrote up the following experience for me. I wouldn't have believed anyone could be so foolish but judge for yourself. Here are the sad details:

"On Sunday, July 4th, my wife and I visited a Safeway store in South Everett, WA around 10 a.m. to pick up last minute items for our BBQ. Upon arriving we noticed the shopping cart next to our car had a man's black designer wallet in the top basket.

"I opened the wallet to inspect the contents (and look for personally identifiable information) so it could be returned to the owner. Not only we were able to find the owner with the contents, but we were shocked to see how un-privacy-conscious this person is.

"The wallet contained:
- Family photos (wife, two young girls)
- Drivers License with local HOME ADDRESS
- Boating insurance card (with boat identification)
- Washington State Fishing License / Catch Record
- AAA Plus RV card with account # / current
- Four major bank credit cards
- Paypal banking card
- Bank receipts /w hand written math on the back
- Business cards for their local business
- Business cards for other people
- Various receipts from shopping
- Paperwork/estimates related to their business
- No cash!

"Having worked a lot with JJ Luna we knew that this was a big no-no and I jokingly told the wife later that we could have had this person buy our groceries since their cards had nice example signatures on the back. Filling up our tank would have been a no-brainer since we had their billing zip code.

"As tempting it was to snoop at the balances or really piece this persons life together, I tried calling 411 first to get the persons phone number by name (there goes a $1.50). Unfortunately a listing didn't come up,but they did offer a listing under a woman's name which I didn't call. Instead, I used the business cards which matched the name on the driver's license to call the person on his cell number. He didn't immediately answer but a call to the other number (wife?) listed on the business who answered - which the 411 listing had the same name for.

"They at this point didn't even know the wallet was missing. Being good samaritans we offered to drive the wallet down to their address which was nearby, but they said to just leave it with customer service at the store. We dropped the wallet off with customer service and the counter agent immediately recognized the person by their picture and said she would keep it for them.

"It made us think about what we could piece together about this person from their wallet contents. We knew where they lived, how many children they have, what major items they owned (nice 23 foot boat, RV), what accounts they had with balanced, and banks they banked at. Due to Paypal we knew they shopped online, or at least had a Paypal account.

"The email address of this account is likely the one used on the business card. We knew the husband and wife's name, phone numbers, dates of birth, and almost anything that an automated system would need these days to verify identity. I didn't think about it until now but WA state requires a social security number to get fishing license. Fortunately these numbers aren't printed on the license themselves but a crafty social engineer could probably get this information via pretexting with the state's DOL."


Why didn't the owner of the wallet want my friend to bring it by? I suspect that he was an industrial-strength cheapskate who did not wish to be obligated to offer a small reward. And--since he carried no cash, he was not in a position to say to my friend, "I insist you take out $50 for your trouble, before you leave the wallet with customer service."

Here's what I normally carry in my own wallet:

- Between $300 and $500 cash. Period.

Explanation: If I know beforehand that I will visit a certain place, I will carry a library card, a senior discount card for a buffet, or a Costco card. My driver's license remains hidden in my SUV, along with $100 of hidden cash (in case I forget my wallet sometime).

If I travel, I then carry (in an inside pocket of my sport coat) my passport, DL, an ATM card and a credit card. Plus a lot of cash.

Go thou and do likewise. :-)