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Question: Chris: These days all of us receive so much unsolicited mail in our mail boxes, that it is a real headache. It is even more so, with the prescreened credit offers, because we are obliged to shred those papers with our names on it, or else someone will steal our identities. I found this web site that allows you to opt out.

www.dmachoice.org/MPS/proto1.php

What is the catch? Is there a downside to opting out? Thanks, P., Pittsburgh, PA.

Answer: The only downside I can imagine is that you might miss a good deal or an attractive offer. For most people, that's a small price to pay for cutting down on unsolicited offers in the mail and telemarketing calls.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA), a trade association, allows you to opt out of direct mail marketing solicitations for 5 years. You can register online at www.the-dma.org/consumers/offmailinglist.html. (This is the website you mentioned in your email.)

There's more. The federal government has created a National Do Not Call Registry. It's a free service for reducing telemarketing calls. To sign up go to www.donotcall.gov. Or you can call 1-888-382-1222. You will stay on the list for 5 years, and then you can renew again.

The four credit reporting bureaus (yes, sad to say, there are four of them now) offer an opt-out service, too. Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion--the four horsemen of the credit reporting business--have a website with the details at www.optoutprescreen.com. The toll-free number is 1-888-5-OPTOUT. It's a bit disconcerting to realize that you will be asked to provide some very private information, including your home phone, Social Security number, and date of birth.

Last, you can get more details about preserving at least a shred of privacy in the Internet Age at the Federal Trade Commission, at www.ftc.gov.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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