Coffee heat rising

Are Your Name, Address, Phone Number, Income, and Credit Rating Being Broadcast to the Universe?

Holy God! Take a look at what Fabulously Broke found! Do not pass go before you click here and enter your own name.

When I went there, I discovered they’ve published my street address—with a map to my house!—telephone number; approximate age; credit rating; wealth level; value of my home; gender; marital status; length of time I’ve resided in my home; socioeconomic status of my neighborhood; type of structure I occupy and and the year it was built; its alleged value; whether it has a fireplace, central heating, central air, or a pool; how many kids I have; my educational level; my hobbies; my occupation; my interests; and my zodiac sign.

To be fair, some of these are left blank. Some are wrong—hilariously, they think my house is worth in excess of a million bucks. I wish!!! Some of the data clearly came from Facebook: I recognize the disinformation I entered there.

However… Spokeo also has another me in its bowels: Some woman by the same name is still living with my former husband at my former address. Interestingly, this woman’s information happens to match my own real-life personal data.

Folks. I divorced before there was such a thing as social media. The Internet barely existed when I ran away to the Alaskan outback. So…wherever these SOBs are aggregating their data from, it’s not all coming from the Internet.

If you go to their contact link and send them an e-mail demanding that they take your personal data down, you’re forced to enter their choice of subject lines. Select “business matter” instead of “privacy” to reach a human being. Select “privacy” and instead of sending the dear-sir-you-cur you’ve scorched into their contact form, you get instructions for a hoop-jump and the advice that the only way to get your information off their site is to remove yourself from all the social media sites you use.

In other words, if you don’t want these bustards publishing your current address and phone number to your abusive ex- who threatened to cut off your head, pee down the hole, and flee with your children to East Zambia, you may not participate in any social media of any kind. Either that, or you must leave a trail of lies wherever you go.

I wonder if Spokeo’s management can spell “class action suit.”

Postscript: Go here for an excellent video taking you through FaceBook’s new privacy settings, step-by-step.


Like dust, paper sifts into my house and settles on the countertops and furniture. If I don’t get to it, before long it stacks up in great dunes of paperwork, forms to be filled out, bills to be paid, statements to be entered in Quicken or Excel, junk to be filed away. Whether its ultimate destination is a return envelope, a file folder, or the trash can, every single piece of it has to handled, examined, thought about, and acted upon.

I’ve known for a while that I would have to get to the stacks on the dining-room table and on my desk. It couldn’t be put off another day, nevermind the stack of student papers and the remaining work to do in the index of medieval & Renaissance history, forget the housework that hasn’t been done in three or four weeks, the empty gas tank, the long shopping list hanging on the fridge. Somewhere deep in the pile was a Visa bill and a car insurance bill, both of which needed to be paid. Soon. Maybe yesterday, for all I knew.

So, having overslept Saturday morning, along about 8:30 I dove into the dreaded task. And…

It took a good four hours to dig out from under all that crap!!! Filling out the forms and copying all the receipts and supporting information for the Avesis claim was probably the most infuriating. Why is it necessary to ask the customer for policy numbers, group numbers, and individual numbers that do not appear on the insurance card, were never sent in the mail, and have to be retrieved by calling the company? What is the point of demanding repetition of facts that are already in the company’s records?

And how, pray tell, do my gender and birthdate bear on my purchase of one, count it, one pair of cheap glasses? What is the point of wasting paper, ink, postage, and my time on this redundant and irrelevant trivia? By the time I finished, I’d filled out a two-page form and photocopied nine more pieces of paper to stuff into the envelope with it. Postage consumed two of the USPS’s pricey little stamps.

Then there’s the form required to ask for the $10,000 of tax-free funds residing in a Northwestern Mutual whole life policy. Is there a reason a form has to be incomprehensible? What, for example, do you suppose is meant by “cash value of,” “face value of,” and “to cost basis”? These terms have exactly zero meaning to me, and I can’t even imagine where to go to look them up and try to figure out how they apply to my particular request, which is a simple “please give me back my money.” No one’s home at Northwestern Mutual, of course: on a Saturday, only the customers have to work.

The Hartford sent not only the current policy and two copies of the piece of paper the State of Arizona requires one to purchase each year and carry around in one’s car, but also three more envelopes full of paper. Lots of dense copy there, too, much of it mind-numbing. The vast amount this company charges to insure my aged car, OF course, requires me to get online and transfer funds from the money market to a checking account, another time-consuming bit of ditz that has to be entered in Quicken, after the credit union’s receipt is printed out and filed. More paper, more ink: more of mine.

By the time I was finished, along about half-past noon, the house was still filthy and the larder still bare. Half the day was absorbed by dealing with paperwork, much of it pointless and way too much of it invasive demands for information that is strictly none of anyone’s business.

A nation of sheep is what we are. If, as a people, we were not passive and indolent, we would rise up in full rebellion at corporate demands for private information that go way beyond anything needed to get a given job done, at the deluge of unnecessary and wasteful paperwork, and (most infuriatingly!), at the newest trend that requires consumers to download and print out online forms, thereby wasting their own ink and paper for no very good reason.

Allons, enfants de la patrie!
To the barricades!

25 awesome sites for personal finance buffs

In a moment of idleness, I decided to Stumble in search of sites that might interest friends of Funny about Money. Below, 25 sites full of information, leads, and tools for personal finance enthusiasts. Prepare to bookmark!

Find Help, Get Action:

Hard-to-find 800 numbers. Includes Amazon, Google(!!), Dell, Apple. Some entries give a clue to how to reach a human.

How to Complain. For our friends in the UK.

Consumer Action. Free hotline refers consumers to complaint-handling agencies through our free hotline. This nonprofit publishes multilingual educational materials; compares prices on credit cards, bank accounts and long-distance services; advocates for consumers.

Federal Reserve Consumer Help. Contact the Federal Reserve if you’re having a problem with a bank or other financial institution.

General Consumer Information

Lifehacker. The Magic 8-Ball of interesting, useful, and amazing stuff

Federal Citizen Information Center: a gold mine of information. Click “Employment” to check out “how to get a job in the federal government.”

FRB Consumer Information. Another Federal Reserve Board page: banking, credit, mortgages, personal finance, leasing, identity theft. Useful information.

Consumer Product Safety Commission. Consumer info, news, recalls.

Consumer World. A large, active site: articles, links, tips, price comparisons…

Consumer Reports. Web presence of the granddaddy of consumer organizations; unfortunately, some parts of the site are restricted to subscribers.

Consumer’s Checkbook. Nonprofit organization reviews local companies and providers. Requires a log-in.


Retail Me Not.  Coupon codes & discounts

Local gas prices. Find the best prices in your area.

Swap Skills. Skill swapping network

DIY bath & body products: “800 bath & body recipes  you can make at home.”

How to make soap. It is what it says it is.

Bizrate: Shopping online; reviews, price comparisons

Quatloos: Cybermuseum of Scams & Frauds. Funny, often informative, sometimes provocative blog

Privacy Issues

Consumer Reports on privacy.  What information is being collected about you, why you need to know, and what (if anything) you can do about it. Did you know there’s a database tracking your record of returned merchandise?

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Nonprofit for consumer information and advocacy

Radio frequency identification. Clear, readable, and well researched excerpt from a law review article detailing what this is and how it will affect everyone’s privacy. Even cash transactions will be trackable…right to your doorstep. So much for any ideas about “going off the grid”!

Pest Control

Spambox.  Creates a temporary e-mail address for those outfits that demand an e-mail address to “verify” when you need to download or get into a site. It forwards to your real site and then expires after a set time.

Bug Me Not.  Shared logins for sites that pester you to register

Annoyance zappers. Plug-ins for zapping many common online annoyances

Junkbusters. Reduce physical junkmail.

Truth, the highest thing that man may keep

If you’re here to read “Truth” for FMF’s “March Madness” competition, please remember to vote at Free Money Finance’s site, not in the comments here. 🙂

Why, when we’re confronted, do we tend to blurt out the truth, even when it works to our disadvantage to do so? Chaucer had it right when he said “truth is the highest thing that Man may keep.” Sometimes we should keep it to ourselves.

Asked in the right way, we’ll often reveal private, sensitive information that’s strictly none of anyone’s business, that’s valuable to people trying to manipulate us into buying products and services, and that can be used to pester or even harass us, in some cases handing over Medicare and other personal information to convicted felons. Warranty cards with long lists of personal questions are especially egregious: what about your favorite sporting event and the magazines you read is needed to guarantee a flashlight’s performance? And how often do you give your phone number to companies that have no need to know it?

When my mother was young, back in the Early Pleistocene, she worked for the telephone company. Long-distance phone tolls were a pricey, money-making item, and people would try all sorts of scams to rip off a free call, ranging from disallowing calls they actually made to charging calls to someone else’s phone number. My mother’s job was to investigate claims of fraudulent charges. To get started, she would telephone the number that a customer said didn’t belong on a bill. When someone picked up the receiver, she would say she was calling from Pacific Bell and then quickly ask who called that number on thus-and-such a day at thus-and-such a time.

Incredibly, she said, about 90 percent of people would blurt out the truth. When you’re asked a question you don’t expect, point-blank, you’re likely to answer accurately even if the answer works against you.

In a general way, ethical people tell the truth. On the other hand, those who commit petty larcenies like stealing from the phone company are not ethical…and so why should they, by impulse, speak truthfully? It’s a deep-seated instinct, one that in the marketplace is too often used against us. Information we share for no other reason than that some stranger asks us is routinely sold to other merchandisers.

Yesterday when I went to get a flu shot at a grocery-store clinic, I was asked (among other things) for my e-mail address and telephone number. I left the e-mail address blank, figuring that if they pressed me I’d say I don’t have a computer or give them my junk gmail address. But under the mild stress of having to get another shot (I really do dislike injections of all kinds), I completely spaced the fake phone number I normally use in some circumstances. Well…actually, it occurred to me that if something was wrong with the vaccine they might need to call, so I gave my office number.

I immediately regretted it. The exception to the national Do-Not-Call Law allows companies that you do business with and all their subsidiaries to pester you with phone solicitation. So now I can expect nuisance phone calls not only from Dr. Mollen’s health-care enterprise, but from any other company even vaguely related to it.

Okay, I’m not advocating that we should routinely lie. However, I think when marketers try to extract private information for which they have no use other than to sell it or to sell something to you, you’re well within your rights to refuse to share it. And when pressed, to respond with disinformation. For example, I have a phony telephone number printed on my checks. No law says you have to tell a merchandiser the truth, nor is there any need for a retailer to have your phone number for no other reason than that you paid for a product with a check. If the check bounces, the bank will come after you.

Similarly, my Safeway club card bears my dog’s name and the telephone number of Safeway’s corporate offices.

Some retailers will themselves lie when you ask not to have a phone number used for solicitation. The first time I bought an appliance at Sears, the salesman asked for my number so the installer could call to make an appointment. I specifically stated that I did not wish to receive sales calls, and he specifically stated that my number would not be used for phone solicitation. He said he was entering a do-not-call note in the database. Within days, I was getting nuisance sales pitches from Sears. Requests that they take me off their list were ignored. It took weeks to get them to quit badgering me, and they only quit after I complained to a state consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau.

Big Brother is watching you, but unlike Orwell’s nightmare vision, he ain’t the government. Big Brother is the corporate shadow government, the one that follows your every step on video cameras and keeps tabs on every magazine you subscribe to, every prescription you buy, how much you earn and where you earn it, and every deep breath you take. You’re well within your rights to protect your privacy. Remember, with the exception of some financial institutions, the courts, and the IRS, no law requires you to answer a nosy question.

Image: Truth (1896). Olin Warner (completed by Herbert Adams). Left bronze door at main entrance of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building. Photo by Carol Highsmith. Public Domain.

Privacy: It’s none of their business

Peter at Bible Money Matters reports that when he called American Express to cancel an old credit card account that hadn’t been used in years, he was blitzed with a high-pressure pitch to keep the card. Among other things, the person who answered his phone call asked him why he would want to cancel a perfectly fine credit card. One of Peter’s readers also reported having been asked a similar question and then pursuedwith attempts to discuss balances on other cards and her arrangements for emergency funds. Wow! All of these matters come under the heading of nobody’s business but yours. Stand in front of the mirror and practice uttering these phrases:
That’s none of your business.
Why do you want to know?
I don’t share that kind of information with strangers.

Be prepared to use them at the drop of a hat.

The psychology of phone interactions between companies and consumers is fascinating. Decades ago, my mother worked for the phone company in California. Part of her job was to check up on fraudulent long-distance calls, which in those days were pretty easy to make. When a customer called in and said a call to thus-&-such a number was incorrectly billed to him, she would telephone the number and ask whoever answered who had called them at the time and date shown on the bill. Amazingly, when asked point-blank most people would blurt out the perp’s name without thinking.

She said she’d been taught during the phone company’s training sessions that when confronted with an unexpected personal question, most people will answer honestly before they think about it. A lot of the conversation that Peter and his readers report entails having some minimum wage employee at a phone bank—possibly in some other country—engage the mark in a conversation about matters that are none of his or her business, solely for the purpose of manipulation.

It’s another reason we should protect our privacy and draw a line where information that belongs to us is concerned.

Remember: Just say no!

Big Brother in action

Have you seen the CriminalSearch site? It’s free. You can enter a person’s name and state of residence, click a button, and up will come what purports to be his or her rap sheet. w00t! You, too, can get the straight skinny on all your neighbors. And on that sketchy dude your daughter has been dating! And oh, heck…while you’re at it, why not check up on your daughter, too?

You also can enter an address and get a report showing which of your neighbors in the surrounding area have criminal records, with their names, addresses, and a map showing how to find their homes. And…uhm…yours, if you happen ever to have been caught in the act of turning right at a stop sign without coming to a full stop or failing to yield the right of way.

Problem is, the results seem to be less than significant and less than accurate. A neighborhood search, for example, shows my area rife with desperados: all of them flagrant violators of the traffic laws. Nary a violent criminal or a sex offender appears in the district that includes my neighborhood, the scary slum to the north, and the tenements to the west. Ditto the Investment House’s neighborhood and the bordering crime-ridden area to the west, which is infested with gangs. Well, not quite ditto: one person arrested for theft lives in the general vicinity. Some of the traffic arrests include such heinous crimes as not carrying one’s car registration in the vehicle and not wearing your seatbelt. Now, recently I read that to protect yourself from car theft you should not keep the registration in the car. And when I was pregnant, my gynecologist told me absolutely not to wear a seatbelt in the last trimester, because it would inflict more damage in a minor accident than the collision would.

From the looks of CriminalSearch’s maps, it looks like all is quiet around here.

However, the Sheriff’s office posts maps with the names, addresses, and specific rap sheet details of all registered sex offenders in the county. When you call that up, it’s a whole ‘nother story. The area to the north of me has a half-dozen offenders. The tenements to the west also house several sex offenders. The area to the west of the Investment House, which surrounds a middle school, is awash in sex offenders.

Then there’s what we personally know. Here in the mid- to high-rent district, a state legislator just had to resign after he was arrested for walloping his wife. He lives about six blocks up the road. Right across the street, there’s Carlos the Knife. I know Carlos was arrested the time he cut up his daughter with a kitchen knife when she got between him and her mother. I know he was arrested again more recently, when he went after his wife again. A block north and west, where I used to live, I know the delinquent who lived across the street from me was arrested when he got violent and his grandparents called the police. In Arizona, the police are required to make an arrest in every domestic violence case, even if the victim refuses to press charges. None of those incidents appears in CriminalSearch.

I know that one bright morning 18 months ago the gentleman who rented the house across the street from me was pursued by a small army of cops and brought to ground in his driveway, where it took the occupants of several cruisers and two motorcycle officers to subdue him and carry him off to jail. Okay, so that place is a rental and he’s gone; so maybe the records are up to date and don’t include him. But the current tenant gussies himself up like a Hell’s Angel and rides an unmuffled Harley; somehow I doubt the guy is the Angel Gabriel in disguise. Chances that he has a criminal record are very high.

This freebie, advertiser-supported service comes from PeopleSearch, an outfit used by employers and landlords to do background checks on job applicants. Could your credit rating, your shot at a job, or your ability to rent a home be harmed because you dared to flout some bureaucratic rule that makes no sense? Or because of a minor traffic violation? Meanwhile, the real perps, people who might be inclined to embezzle from the till or bring a street-sweeper to work, they don’t show up.

Invasion of privacy is real. It can get you in your pocketbook and it can get you in other ways, and you may never know why. Fairly or unfairly, it can keep you from getting a job, jack up your interest rates, and even bar you from renting a desirable place to live. Americans need to wake up to this. You should care.

Comments left on the iWeb site:


You are very right.

Still, I admit to getting titillated by the discovery of an assault case on the record of someone I know very well.Someone who is quite holier than thou in general, and looks down his nose at someone else we both know who got arrested for something shockingly similar.