Answers to subscriber questions about credit card offers that won't stop, spaham, and "free" gift offers: Internet ScamBusters #236
It's again been three months since we've done a subscriber Q&Amp;A issue -- there is always SO much to write about! Today we have the answers to three interesting questions for you:
- What do you do when you simply can't stop the credit card offers being sent to your ex-spouse at your address (and even though you've moved!), years after you've divorced?
- What is "Spaham"?
- Are These Free Gift Offers Really Free?
Although we almost always just know the answers to subscriber questions, Steve's question (the first one) included a couple of aspects we didn't know the answers to. So, we did some research to find out. Even if you aren't divorced, we think you'll find the answer very interesting.
What To Do About Credit Card Offers That Simply Won't Stop
Question: This is about credit card offers that I continue to receive in my ex-wife's name.
Background: I was divorced in 1986. I have moved twice since my divorce, in 1993 to a short-term condo and then in early 1994 to my current home.
My ex-wife did not live with me at either subsequent address. Immediately after our divorce, she went back to her maiden name and shortly thereafter married someone else, changing her last name to his.
We had no children together and have no legal ties whatsoever.
It is now almost 21 years since my divorce and I STILL receive mail (included credit card offers) in my ex-wife's name -- probably five to six credit card offers per year!
Somehow, the credit card offers and other mailings are addressed to her using a name that has been non-existent since 1986 and have come to two homes SHE HAS NEVER LIVED IN.
These are not mailings "forwarded" by the Post Office. The mailing address has always been MY correct address.
How can this continue to happen? Is it possible that an old database continues to get sold and re-sold? How did her name get associated with two different addresses at which she has never lived?
Fortunately, my wife of now almost 16 years thinks this is just as asinine as I do and just shakes her head when more mail arrives in my ex-wife's name.
If either of us had unscrupulous or criminal tendencies (and rest assured, neither of us do), I assume that we could have made my ex-wife's life (and credit) horrible.
1) Again, how can this continue to happen?
2) Can we make the mailings stop?
3) (God forbid) Should I try to contact my ex-wife to let her know about the continued mailings and let her handle it from there?
Answer: Great questions! We decided to find out...
"It's very surprising to me," says Stephanie Hendricks, a representative of The Direct Marketing Association. "It may be ... when he put in a change of address, they just assumed she moved with him."
The Direct Marketing Association -- an association of businesses who advertise their products and services by mail, telephone, magazine, Internet, radio or television -- provides consumers one way to decrease the junk mail.
One option is to pay $1 and register for DMA's Mail Preference Service.
"It helps you reduce the amount of mail you receive by taking you off prospecting lists," Hendricks says. "Our members are required to use it."
Hendricks says the service can remove Steve's ex from many of the mailings sent to his address, but it only screens out companies that are DMA members. However, many of the largest direct marketers are DMA members.
To get rid of all credit card offers, Steve should contact the three major credit-reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, she says.
TransUnion spokesperson Steven Katz says formerly married couples like Steve and his ex can remain connected in the eyes of credit providers when credit histories are not accurately updated.
"It's possible they are some way still connected through a joint account they once had," he said. "Or, it could be something as simple as his address being in her report."
Katz says there are three things these credit consumers can do:
1. Get a copy of your credit report and look for errors that might show your ex is still part of your current credit history.
Free credit reports can be obtained from the three major credit-reporting agencies. Find out exactly how you can get your free credit reports.
2. Contact the credit reporting agencies directly. A customer service representative may be the best person to help you figure out what has happened and correct the problem:
- Equifax: 404-885-8000
- Experian: 888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 800-916-8800
Companies are required to resolve any errors found within 30 days.
3. Opt out of prescreened credit card offers by calling 1-888-5OptOut or by visiting OptOut Prescreen.
Part of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, OptOut Prescreen requires credit reporting companies to delete any consumer's name and address from mailing lists.
"It's the equivalent of a Do Not Call list for prescreened offers," Katz says. The service applies to all offers that use a person's credit history, such as credit cards and insurance.
Unfortunately, Katz says, a person can only opt out in their own name and not in their ex's. Steve will need to get his ex's co-operation (gasp!) if he wants her to opt out on credit card offers, etc. sent to his address.
What is "Spaham"?
Question: What is spaham? On more than one occasion I've looked it up in online dictionaries and can find no definition. There is a lot of mention of it on the Net and Web but still I can't find a definition. Can you help with this one?
Answer: Sure. Longtime subscribers know we made up and started using the term "spaham" several years ago when the word "spam" (which it is replacing) started triggering the email filters, which means that the email may be blocked and not delivered. Since we now live in North Carolina, we added a Southern accent to the word spam. 😉
Are These Free Gift Offers Really Free?
Question: I get a lot of 'Free' gift offers -- some by email and some are promos on websites. Many look legit. Often, these offers are for name-brand products. I've received them for everything from cameras and computers to Olive Garden gift certificates.
Are any of these offers real or are they all scams? Perhaps a report on them? I can send you a sample or two if you wish.
Answer: First, any offer you receive via spaham is a scam. That's easy. 😉
Now, we're certainly not going to say that there are no legit free offers, but most of the ones you're talking about fall into the category of not-really-free at all. We've done an issue on this already that received a lot of positive feedback.
Incidentally, the product offer doesn't matter (since the tactic is the same). You can find the details that answer your question in ScamBusters Issue #192 on designer handbags.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!