With so much in the news about threats to privacy, I make sure I don't share personal information with companies unless absolutely necessary. But I wonder if I am doing enough. Do you have suggestions?
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (www.epic.org) has compiled a list of steps consumers can take to protect their privacy. As well as engaging in “privacy self-defense” by not sharing personal information with businesses unless absolutely necessary, as you do, they suggest:
- Pay with cash where possible. Electronic transactions leave a detailed dossier of your activities that can be accessed by the government or sold to telemarketers.
- Install anti-spyware, anti-virus, and firewall software on your computer. If your computer is connected to the Internet, it is a target of malicious viruses and spyware.
- There are free spyware-scanning utilities available online. Anti-virus software is probably a necessary investment if you own a Windows-based PC. Firewalls keep unwanted people out of your computer and detect when malicious software on your own machine tries to communicate with others.
- Use a temporary rather than a permanent change of address. If you move in 2005, be sure to forward your mail by using a temporary change of address order rather than a permanent one. Junk mailers have access to the permanent change-of-address database.
- Call 888/567-8688 or visit www.optoutprescreen.com to stop receiving pre-screened credit and insurance offers.
- Choose supermarkets that don't use loyalty cards. Be loyal to supermarkets that offer discounts without requiring enrollment in a loyalty club. If you have to use a supermarket shopping card, be sure to exchange it with your friends or with strangers. Supermarkets use the rich data from these cards in ways you have no control over; these data have even been used in criminal cases.
- Opt out of financial, insurance, and brokerage information sharing. Be sure to call all of your banks, insurance companies, and brokerage companies and ask to opt out of having your financial information shared. This will cut down on the telemarketing and junk mail that you receive.
- Request a free copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. All Americans are now entitled to a free credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. Currently, these reports are available to residents of most western states. By September 2005, all Americans will have free access to their credit report.
- Enroll all of your phone numbers in the Federal Trade Commission's Do-Not-Call Registry. The Do-Not-Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov or 888/382-1222) offers a quick and effective shield against unwanted telemarketing. Be sure to enroll the numbers for your wireless phones, too.
- File a complaint. If you believe a company has violated your
privacy, contact the Federal Trade Commission, your state attorney
general, and the Better Business Bureau. Successful investigations
improve privacy protections for all consumers.
My garden is always infested with slugs. I'm tempted to use commercial slug killers, but I'm aware of how toxic these could be to birds. Are there nontoxic ways to get rid of the slugs in my garden?
There is no guaranteed way to rid your garden of slugs, commercial or otherwise. You can only control the infestation. Here are some nontoxic, natural ways:
- Encourage toads, frogs, and beetles to live in your garden. They eat slugs.
- Water your garden in the morning, not at night. Slugs are most active at night and are most active in damp conditions.
- Set a small amount of beer in a wide, shallow jar buried in the soil up to its neck. Slug are attracted to beer. They'll crawl into the beer-filled jar and drown.
- Place seaweed mulch around the base of plants or perimeter of bed. Seaweed is a natural repellent for slugs—slugs avoid the salt in it—and good for the soil.
- Use copper to fence slugs away from your flowers. Cut 2-inch strips of thin copper and wrap around the lower part of flower pots. You can also set the strips in the soil, like a fence. Be sure no vegetation hangs over the copper that slugs might use as a bridge to your flowers.
UNWANTED BULK MAIL
I've been careful in keeping my mailbox free from junk mail. But ever since I moved into my new apartment, I've been receiving mail—mostly bulk mails —addressed to the former tenant. What can I do?
Apparently, the former tenant failed to fill out a Post Office Change of Address card. But don't worry. You can fill out one in his/her behalf.
In the card, indicate that the former tenant has moved and left no forwarding address. Sign the card with your name, making sure to identify yourself as the current resident.
Hand this signed card to your carrier. Your carrier can verify that the former tenant has moved without a forwarding address and that you are the current resident.
REUSING GREETING CARDS
Years ago, I sent used greeting cards to Saint Jude's Ranch for them to recycle and sell. This month, I learned that Saint Jude no longer accepts these cards. Any ideas on what I can do with my used cards?
You're right. Saint Jude's Ranch (www.stjudesranch.org), a nonprofit youth home, no longer accepts used greeting cards. The number of used cards they received for their Recycled Card Program, in which youth cut off the front covers, glued on a new back cover, and sold the result—has been overwhelming. The cost of handling these cards is beginning to draw from their primary goal of caring for children.
Saint Jude instead encourages people to purchase their recycled cards or send in Campbell Soup labels, which they can trade for much-needed vans.
For your used cards, here are some recycling ideas:
- Postcards. Cut off the backs of used cards and use the fronts as postcards.
- New Card. Cut and paste parts of used cards onto new blank cards.
- Gift Tags. Cut used cards into squares, punch holes in corners for string, and use these as gift tags.
- Placemats. Cut out pictures from used cards, place these between clear contact papers, and press together to create placemats.
- Used cards can also be recycled as bookmarks, as lacing toys for your children, and, using decoupage techniques, as a storage box.
OLD PRESCRIPTION GLASSES
In the U.S., current laws prohibit re-dispensing prescription glasses and other prescription products. Other countries, however, allow this.
Generally, old prescription glasses are cleaned, repaired and measured to determine the correction. These are then catalogued, sent overseas, and matched to people who may need them.
Contact your optician or civic clubs in your area. Chances are, they might have a program to collect prescription glasses for reuse. The Lions Club (), for example, has a program to collect used glasses from opticians. LensCrafters and Pearle also collect glasses.