Column: Bank of America won’t take no for a permanent answer
The letter Richard Knee received from Bank of America opened with a warning: “You may be missing out on valuable offers.”
“According to our records, you are not being mailed offers from Bank of America because you have opted out of postal mail marketing offers,” the letter said.
Happily for BofA, that’s changing. It said that the preference made clear by Knee, 68, five years ago would expire this month. If he didn’t opt out anew, the junk mail would start flowing again.
“Why should I have to opt out again?” the San Francisco resident asked me. “I already told them that I don’t want their stuff cluttering my mailbox. The opt-out should be permanent.”
It’s a great point, and I agree completely. Yet BofA’s marketing persistence illustrates a broader trend: Many businesses just won’t take no for an answer.
“If they offered you an opt-out and you opted out, they should honor it,” said Robert Gellman, a Washington, D.C., privacy consultant. “You’ve stated your preference.”
On its website, BofA says that “you have choices when it comes to sharing certain information with affiliates and third parties and limiting direct marketing contact.”
That sounds customer-friendly until you dig through the weeds and uncover the fine print: “When you opt out of direct marketing by mail or telephone, your opt out(s) will last for five years, subject to applicable law. After that, you can choose to renew your opt out(s) for another five-year period.”
BofA isn’t alone among banks in refusing to accept that no means no. Wells Fargo says you have to renew your mail-marketing preference every three years and your do-not-call preference every five. Many state banks have similar provisions.
Gellman said that he’d be cool with banks contacting customers every so often to ask whether they wanted to opt in to direct marketing — in other words, seeking permission to pester you with offers.
“But making opt-in the default if you do nothing is just obnoxious,” he said. “They know that most people won’t take action, so this is just a sneaky method to opt people back in.”
Betty Riess, a BofA spokeswoman, said the bank just wants to make sure it understands what customers want.
“We update consumer preferences on direct-mail solicitations every five years because individuals’ preferences may change in the interim and we want to make sure we have current information,” she said.
That suggests, of course, that BofA believes its customers are too stupid or helpless to act on such matters themselves. They might change their mind and suddenly crave junk mail, but they need help to fulfill this desire.
It’s also telling that BofA doesn’t ask every few years whether you want to keep getting junk mail. An opt-in is for life.
Sadly, many businesses operate like this. So what can you do?
To put the kibosh on unwanted credit card and insurance offers, go to OptOutPrescreen.com. The site is operated by the top credit-reporting companies and will allow you to opt out electronically on an industrywide basis for five years. To opt out permanently, you’ll need to also submit a signed form.
Another site, DMAchoice.org, run by the Direct Marketing Assn., will allow you to say “no thanks” to credit card offers, catalogs, magazine-subscription mailers and other pitches from about 3,600 companies and organizations belonging to the industry group.
There’s also the federal government’s do-not-call list, which is intended to stop telemarketers in their tracks. Reputable companies typically respect your preference. The bottom feeders don’t. Still, it’s worth registering your home number.
And if nothing else works, you might consider this: Many solicitations are accompanied by postage-paid envelopes. I’ve heard from a number of people over the years who enjoy placing bits of scrap metal, rocks or other heavy objects in the envelopes and sticking the offending company with the mailing cost.
I’m not recommending such a step. I’m just saying.
An alarming change
While we’re on the subject of correspondence, here’s a recent letter from Post Alarm Systems. It warns that “AT&T and other carriers have begun to shut down older networks commonly known as 2G” and that “this shutdown affects the ENTIRE security industry.”
It goes on to say that the demise of 2G networks had been scheduled for December 2016 by federal authorities, but was switched to this month.
Marge Piane, a Post Alarm Systems customer, told me that after receiving the letter, she contacted AT&T and was informed that the company isn’t suddenly shutting down its 2G system, used by many security companies to transmit indications of a break-in.
“What’s the deal?” the Glassell Park resident asked.
First off, the 2G networks favored by alarm companies are indeed going away. AT&T warned customers a couple of years ago that they’d need to upgrade their connections by early 2017.
Georgia Taylor, an AT&T spokeswoman, said Jan. 1, 2017, is still the final cutoff for 2G service. But some areas already are being affected by what she called “ongoing spectrum reallocation,” which means the last days of 2G are already here.
As a result, Taylor said, “a limited number” of alarm companies in Los Angeles could see their 2G service eliminated by the end of this month.
If you receive a letter from your alarm company similar to the one Piane got, don’t ignore it. Your system will have to be upgraded to keep working — and that could cost you about $300 in new equipment for your home.
David Lazarus’ column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA_TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to email@example.com.
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