- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

I like telemarketers. Really, I do. I guess I don’t carry the traditional disgust for them because my fingers have walked where theirs have walked — along the keypad, dialing for dollars, working that second job to get through college, pay down debt or brush up on sales skills.

Unfortunately, what started out as an innovative outreach for local businesses has become an international telecommunications orgy that’s left most consumers angered by dinnertime interruptions for offers of a better long-distance service, a lower-interest-rate credit card or a debt-reducing equity loan on your house.

I’m not jumping on the anti-telemarketing bandwagon right now. It’s just that I received a call this week that went beyond what I would call acceptable telemarketing behavior from a mortgage company.

During my telemarketing days, I rarely had anyone hang up on me. You know why? It was because I respected their time and really believed I had a product that they needed — information on the real estate market in their neighborhood.

When the Joneses listed their house, I knew the neighbors were itching to know what the listing price was, how many bedrooms it had, if they had upgraded the house and what day an open house would be scheduled.

As a Realtor, I would simply call and tell them. And in a fast-moving marketplace, it was difficult for homeowners to keep up with their home values any other way without that type of contact unless they were putting their houses on the market themselves.

Stock traders have the 20-minute ticker. The same is true for bond investors. For U.S. bonds, you know what you’re going to get when it matures. In real estate, however, you just don’t know unless the neighbor comes by and tells you, you get a post card in the mail with the listing information or you visit the open house.

Of course, that was unless I called you with good news. “Mr. Smith, your neighbor’s house just went on the market, and Mr. and Mrs. Jones wanted me to call you and let you know it’s priced at ….” I would hear Mr. Smith draw in his breath and hold it, waiting for me to tell him how much his “stock” had risen.

I loved telemarketing.

But Sean called me today. Now I have a sour taste in my mouth for this industry that’s facing extinction because of mega corporate abuse of the masses.

Sean works for a mortgage company in New York. I live in Virginia.

First of all, he talked way too fast. I asked him to slow down several times so I could understand what he was saying. He apologized and blamed it on the three cups of coffee he had just consumed.

As he went through his script, he asked the questions you would consider normal: What’s your interest rate? What’s the balance? How long have you lived in the house? Where are you employed? etc. Then, he asked for my birthday.

That’s when I ended the interview. He questioned my hesitation and said there was nothing to worry about; he’d be willing to tell me his birthday. He gave me his phone number and a Web site to check out his validity. He insisted that my birth date was a matter of public record.

Call me gun shy; call me overly cautious, but I refused to give this man who had called me from out of state and talked with me less than five minutes my birth date.

Your birthday is one of the pieces of information used to verify your identity and run credit checks. I can’t tell you how important it is for you to not discuss such personal information with people with whom you have had no prior relationship.

There are plenty of local loan officers you can meet and look straight in the eye who can give you the same programs someone from out of state can provide — or say they’re going to provide.

Guard your personal identification. Don’t hand out information that, although it may be a matter of public record, can provide the wrong people with the right information to delve into your credit.

Conduct a security inventory for yourself: Where are your birth date, Social Security number (SSN), address, phone numbers and the like in public view? Are they on your checks? Driver’s license? Insurance cards? Have that information removed.

Some industries get it; some still don’t. In Virginia, the Department of Motor Vehicles allows you to request a state-issued driver’s-license number instead of using your SSN. That’s a wise move, and I would only hope that more agencies would get the message and remove the use of the SSN as a part of identification and member numbers.

Remember, the best guardian of your private information is you.

M. Anthony Carr has covered real estate for more than 15 years. Contact him by e-mail (manthonycarr@erols.com).

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