“I Wish I Knew How to Quit You”
Advice on Opting Out of Phonebooks, Credit Card Offers, Oregonian‘s FOODday… and More—FOREVER.
by Sarah Mirk
Your home address is money. So is your personal information, your internet history, and, well, your actual money.
These days, all those items are kept by companies looking to profit off them one way or another—whether it’s credit card companies spamming your mailbox with new offers, or your bank reselling your loan to a third party.
Personally, I hate feeling like I’m giving any handout to companies who exploit me as a consumer. Especially ones I’ve never actively sought out, but who still insist on dropping their services on my front door like a big steaming pile of… phonebooks.
Shouting at some hapless customer service agent isn’t my style, I just want to quit these “services” (or, really, have them quit me). But wriggling out of their grip means jumping tricky, bureaucratic hurdles. Here’s a handy guide on how to quit a few of my least favorite things.
Things that are wrong with phonebooks: (1) They’re made of trees. (2) They’re useless to anyone with the internet. (3) You can’t really do anything creative with them except maybe rip them in half as a party trick. (4) No one recycles them! An Oregon Department of Environmental Quality study showed that 80 percent of these whoppers wind up in landfills.
Weirdly, despite dropping “eco-friendly size” 900-plus-page books on my front door, Yellow Pages says they don’t want us receiving phonebooks if we don’t want them.
“We have absolutely no interest in delivering directories to people who don’t want them. It just irritates the consumers, irritates the environmentalists, and doesn’t do anything for our advertisers,” says Yellow Pages Association President Neg Norton. Yes. Irritated. That’s me!
The state legislature is considering a bill (SB 525) that would ban phonebook delivery statewide unless you opt in for delivery. Fingers crossed for that one passing, but in the meantime, Yellow Pages launched a website this winter where you can opt out of delivery:yellowpagesoptout.com.
Click through the options on that page, but I don’t recommend giving Yellow Pages your real phone number (there’s been reports of phone spamming). Their perhaps-intentional terrible web design means you have to manually uncheck every phonebook you can potentially receive (I opted out of seven. Seven!) and then click on a tiny, tiny, box that says “Confirm.”
After opting out in February, I was annoyed when four new phonebooks appeared on my porch in March. Even though I’d cancelled Yellow Pages, phonebook company Dex took it upon themselves to deliver a new equally unwanted batch. Head to dexknows.com, click on the tiny link at the bottom that says “Select Your Dex” and go through the rigmarole of entering your address and selecting “zero” for each phonebook offered.
CREDIT CARD OFFERS
The average credit card debt per person in Portland? $6,045. Ouch. But that’s no surprise when credit card companies flood our mail with offers of cheap and easy cash. Since signing up for my first credit card last year (to get Alaska Airlines miles? It didn’t really work), I’ve been getting roughly five pieces of mail a month from credit card companies.
Thanks to 1970’s Fair Credit Reporting Act, even though my credit card company is charging me annual fees and high interest rates, it’s still legal for them to make another buck off me by reselling my information.
Under that same law, pie-in-the-sky credit card mailers have to include print opt-out directions. Check the back of the letter, squeezed in among the rest of the fine print: You can call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT to unsubscribe from these “prescreened” offers.
There’s an easier way, though: optoutprescreen.com is run by the four major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, Innovis, and TransUnion) and, for what it’s worth, it’s the opt-out method the Federal Trade Commission recommends to consumers. You can use the site to opt out for five years, but you have to print out a form and mail it in if you want to opt out of credit card offers forever. One huge downside: You have to enter very personal information, like your Social Security number. Despite the federal government’s assurance that the info on the site is guarded and confidential, I was hesitant to hand over my secret digits to companies with a track record of selling my personal info.
But I did. And no one’s stolen my identity. Yet. Um. Yay!
BIG BAD BANKS
A year and a half ago, the country was in the deepest throes of the financial crisis and I was feeling helpless. It was embarrassing to hear the name of my bank, Bank of America, uttered again and again on the radio as they took $45 billion in bailout money and then refused to extend credit to homeowners facing foreclosure. I wanted their greedy paws off my money.
Because I don’t have any loans with Bank of America, it was super easy to cancel my account. I’d been a BofA customer since age eight, but it only took nine minutes to head into the SE Hawthorne branch, tell them we were through, and exit with my meager life savings. I walked my cash 20 blocks down Hawthorne and opened an account at Rivermark Community Credit Union. Crazy easy. Just bring ID and your bank card to cancel.
Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and other big banks have a track record of screwing over customers whenever possible. Both those banks, for example, reorder your purchases so you get hit with higher overdraft fees… well, Wells Fargo had to stop earlier this year thanks to a court order, but now their lawyers are fighting that decision.
“Unlike at big banks, people who are making the decisions at small banks and credit unions live, work, and benefit from the local community,” says Angela Martin, an advocate at Economic Fairness Oregon. “A bank like Albina Community Bank makes more small business loans in Oregon than a big bank like Bank of America by a factor of 10. Why? Because they’re on the ground.”
Okay, look, I haven’t actually quit my Facebook. Yes, I am annoyed by the fact that I’m voluntarily handing the Facemaster new personal information daily that they can use to target me with ads, and I’m annoyed that Facebook’s default setting is unsecure—meaning anyone with a computer who knows what they’re doing (not me) could hack your account (to change this, go to “account settings”, then “account security”, and click “secure browsing). On the other hand, I actually use and enjoy Facebook. Yes, I actually like it. There, I said it.
Splitting with Facebook, however? That’s complicated.
Whether you want to quit for ethical reasons or just to squelch Looking at Ex-Boyfriend Pictures Syndrome, quitting is cumbersome.
Quitting through Facebook’s official process takes five clicks through account settings. The much easier option is to just search for the Facebook group “How to Permanently Delete Your Facebook Account,” which, somehow, has 80,833 members.
Click on the link that this group prominently displays. Then click “email opt-out” and jump through two security hurdles, entering your name and a code.
Now here’s where it gets really tricky: Your account isn’t actually deleted. It’s just deactivated. If you use Facebook anytime during the next two weeks, your account is instantly resurrected. If you click “like” on any website, or use your Facebook login to use sites like Digg, or click through any of the email updates Facebook continues to send you… bingo! You’re back on.
Oh, and while you’re dead to Facebook, the company makes no promises to delete your personal data they’ve stored. It’s theirs now. They own you. Welcome to consumer rights in America.