ProQuo.com, a La Jolla-based company, is pioneering new ways for consumers to get rid of unwanted postal junk mail and halt identity theft.
Steve Gal is CEO of ProQuo.com, a free service to people sick of getting junk mail, who just want their names removed from mailing lists. The most important thing to remember about junk mail, noted Gal, is that consumers' mailing information is a "commodity" that can be bought on the open market.
"Information about consumers is bought, sold and traded every day," said Gal, "and consumers really don't know that. They know about identity theft and the scams, but they don't know the reasons why their (mailing) information is so widely available."
What consumers do know, added Gal, is they get voluminous amounts of unwanted junk mail and spam in their mailboxes. Gal pointed out there are large companies, data brokers, who can make huge profits accessing readily available consumer mailing and related information and then reusing it for junk mail. Such data brokers have made acquiring and using mailing lists into a science.
"There are mailing lists in every range from demographics and interests down to very specific lists," said Gal. "There are lists of seniors, lists of men with sexual dysfunction, many types of lists bought out there - and your name might be on it."
Names, Social Security numbers, addresses, dates of birth, purchasing behaviors and other personal details are being traded and sold everyday within a $10 billion legally operating industry.
What can consumers do about eradicating their names from junk mailing lists?
"On our Web site, people can see very quickly who's trading and selling their information," he said. "You can click on them and get involved in the process of getting their names taken off the (mailing) list. They can also remove their names from (online) catalogues."
"Our job, very simply, is to stop things (junk mail)," said Gal. "You get the things you do want, but you don't get things you don't want, that you didn't ask for. We turn the buinsess model upside down. Instead of marketers being in charge of what lists they want, you, as a consumer, is in charge of who gets access to your information."
Gal and his current team of about 30 associates have been working for nearly a decade in the consumer privacy and identity protection fields. "La Jolla, and San Diego, is really a hub for a lot of this work," Gal said.
Gal said consumers can take these simple steps to regain control over their personal information.
- Avoid tempting opportunities to get an extra discount when shopping at retailers that offer in-store credit cards.
- Be aware that enrolling in loyalty programs (frequent flier, grocery discount clubs) leads to your information being sold multiple times over.
- Proactively remove your information from marketing lists through a free online service like www.ProQuo.com.
- Avoid signing up for sweepstakes either in shopping mals or online.
Gal added eradicating junk mail has a number of other practical benefits. "It's a big environmental impact," he noted. "One hundred million trees a year are consumed by junk mail, not to mention water and gas, etc."
Proquo.com has started out with "snail mail" junk mail, but intends to branch out soon to include eradicating electronic junk mail and spam. "Our intention as a company was to start with paper junk mail," he said. "It's such a broad-based problem. But we will address e-mail, behavior advertising and Web tracking."
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