Spam, the Sham

They aren't just annoying, time-consuming and potentially dangerous. Unwanted solicitations and spam can be dangerous when it comes to identity theft. While telephone and e-mail spam might seem an inescapable byproduct of modern communication, there are a number of steps you can take to mitigate the problem.

The Direct Marketing Association, a trade association of businesses that advertise their products and services directly to consumers by mail, telephone, magazine, Internet, radio or television, maintains a service through which consumers can remove themselves from mail, phone and e-mail solicitation lists used by association members.

Here's the drill:

To be removed from a mailing list, write to Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735. When giving your name, use full names, nicknames and any other combination that a solicitor may use.

To get off the phone list, send your name, address and phone number to Telephone Preference Service, DMA, Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735. Make sure you provide all phone numbers you may use.

To get rid unwanted e-mail, fill out the DMA registration form located on its Web site:

Here are few additional tips to remember when dealing with spam:

If you get an unwanted e-mail, don't click the “remove me” option that many such mails offer. In many cases, all that means to the sender is that the mail has hit an active address, which only means more solicitations. Set up an e-mail garbage address. Use one e-mail address for transactions and other activities that may lead to spam. Use another for all private communication.

If you receive repeated phone solicitations, just make sure to tell them not to call again. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 stipulates that they have to stop calling if you request. If they ignore your request and call again, you may be able to sue them for $500 in a “private right of action” in local court.

Contact your credit card company and find out how to take part in their “opt out” program. This prevents your name from being passed around to solicitors and other companies with whom your cardholder deals.

Also, you can report unwanted e-mails or those with deceptive “unsubscribe” links to the Federal Trade Commission. They store the unsolicited e-mails in their database to pursue law enforcement actions against people who send deceptive spam e-mail. To report unwanted e-mails, forward the e-mail and header information to: [email protected]