Privacy ideas
January 31, 2008 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Help me with some ideas on protecting my personal privacy. (U.S. question)

I want to put a stop to persistent telemarketing calls, plus keep my contact info out of databases like ZabaSearch and Lexis-Nexis. I'm about to move to a new place later this year and don't want to screw things up.

Telephone: It's occurred to me to give out a fake number, but I do want the business to be able to get hold of me if, say, there's fraud on a card or I suddenly have a $300K gas bill. This morning I pondered the idea of getting one of those flexible $2/month 1-888 numbers for the purpose of giving out to corporations I do business with. Those 888 numbers use a nice web interface and have tremendous flexibility to block and screen calls; much better than with my crappy landline telco. AFAIK the 800/888 range does not get consumer telemarketing calls, but can be easily dialed from any legitimate U.S. office. If there's a problem I can block it (since ANI is used, no one can hide behind the "Out Of Area" facade).

The problems I've invented in my head are: a database choking with tying an 888 number to my zip code; not allowing me to enter an 888 number as a contact; and being unable activate a credit card since my 888 number would not match my landline's CID or ANI.

Home address: Likewise I want to keep my home address off of online databases. I know I can use a P.O. Box for the majority of this, but the two problems here are (1) telco, utilities, and car insurance, all of which need a physical address, which in turn might get frivolously sold to third parties, and (2) credit card companies and credit bureaus, which keep close tabs on street addresses. It did occur to me that a Mailboxes Etc suite could do the trick in some of these cases.

All in all, I'm not trying to evade anyone, and I KNOW I can't get 100% invisibility. Rather I just want to put in the proverbial ounce of prevention here to prevent someone from finding all my personal info with an ounce of effort. I write books and run a home office and don't want all my info splayed out all over ZabaSearch. Plus, the worst telemarketing I've had to deal with has usually been from big megacorps I've used and their affiliates (thus, because of prior relationship, DNCA goes out the window) and opting out isn't foolproof as evidenced by some big trouble we had with Sprint telemarketing us back in 2001.

Any suggestions? Experiences? Personal anecdotes about giving out a fake or toll-free number?
posted by crapmatic to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Use GrandCentral for phone filtering.
posted by mpls2 at 8:48 AM on January 31, 2008

It's very common these days for someone's phone area code to not match their zip code because cell phone numbers are kept when people move. My area- and zip-codes are on opposite sides of the country, and this hasn't caused any problems.

Your utilities will be able to keep separate home and mailing addresses for you. You can use the PO Box as the mailing address. Of course, maybe they will now capriciously sell BOTH addresses. Caveat emptor.

In my experience, credit card companies are the worst about selling personal info and generating postal spam; they also routinely "reset" privacy options, so you can't effectively opt out of this behavior. You can talk to the post office to remove yourself from junk mail lists, and if you have a land line you should put yourself on the national do-not-call list.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:54 AM on January 31, 2008

GrandCentral is a good call. I use an AIM digits number to give out to businesses I know will harass me but either would be fine. GC would have the advantage that you could really use it as your number and set 'trusted' people/numbers to actually forward through and let the other chumps get voicemail.
posted by phearlez at 9:38 AM on January 31, 2008

"GrandCentral is a good call."
"Use GrandCentral for phone filtering."

Sounds good, but they don't help when they're asking for an "invitation code". I entered my info and basically just got some text equating to "we'll call you sometime".
posted by crapmatic at 9:51 AM on January 31, 2008

If you had an email address in your profile I'd have already issued you an invite. Perhaps you'd like to mefi mail me your address and I'll send you one.
posted by phearlez at 10:04 AM on January 31, 2008

Years ago, when I was leaving my first marriage, knew my now-ex would be looking for me, and really didn't want him to find me, I did the following:

- sublet an apartment. Primary tenant's name stayed on all utilities. (Primary tenant was a friend who was happy to help me stay under the radar.)

- Used that address to set up a mailbox at a Mailboxes etc-type place. The address didn't look like a PO Box but instead like an apartment number. The bills for my cell phone, credit cards etc all went there. I had an address and a phone number but it was very hard for anyone without a warrant to connect my contact information to my actual physical location.

I maintained the Mailboxes etc address for years even after moving out of the sublet and when I'd reached a point where I wasn't worried about my ex showing up on my doorstep. The utilities didn't care about sending the bills to an address other than the service location (they just want to be paid) and the credit card companies didn't either. The only instance I can remember where the personal mailbox address was rejected was when I was registering to vote.

I can't say that it stopped the junk mailings, but the junk mail wasn't coming to my home, the mailbox place had a giant recycling bin where everyone dumped their junk mail.
posted by ambrosia at 10:06 AM on January 31, 2008

Whatever you do, do not donate to charity with your real information. Once you are identified as a generous human being, you are instantly added to the sucker list, and the solicitations will never ever stop. I once made a reasonably generous donation to the special olympics, and regretted it every dinnertime for the next 2 years. Many charities sell your info, and it really sucks.
posted by jenkinsEar at 11:20 AM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

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