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Free Pie? Sure I’ll Give You My Social Security Number

October 4th 2018 | by Ron Zayas

I have a weakness for pie. Marie Callender’s chocolate cream pies are my absolute favorite and are often the deliverable when someone is foolish enough to bet me at tennis.

So you would think when the smiling young lady at the pie counter offered to trade a free pie for an itsy, bitsy piece of information, that I jumped at the chance. If you had bet on that, you’d owe me a pie right now.


What’s the Harm in One Email?

The deal, familiar to anyone who has ever bought anything anywhere (and who isn’t living in a cave in Kandahar) is this: join our rewards program, and get free stuff. What’s the harm? You are just giving your email address, and in exchange you get free pie, or coupons or great savings at your local supermarket.

But in reality it’s not just one email or (worse) your phone number or (much, much, worse) your mobile phone number. Here is how the scam (yes, it really is a scam) really works.

You give the pie store your email address. With that they are able to find out your birthday (remember that “Get a free pie on your birthday” email you received?), your credit card number (you pay with your credit card and give your loyalty program number, right?) and even your mobile number (did you download their mobile app?).

Now the pie store figures they could better serve you if they also knew your age, how many people live in your home and your income. Makes sense, right?

So they trade their list information to an info broker who fills in the missing pieces with information from other retailers, in exchange for money and/or the pieces of information they don’t have. Did you use that same email address or phone number with your doctor? Give the furniture delivery place your address and mobile number to update you on delivery status? Bingo. Now the information broker can put those pieces together. They will even tie that information to your social security number, since that is the ultimate identifier of who you are.

Get the picture? So let’s try that request again and remove the marketing spin:

Welcome to our pie store. If you will just give me, a total stranger, your name, address, social security number and phone number, I’ll give you a free slice of pie.

Such a deal!


A New Sucker's List

All of this is a variation of the old (but still used) suckers’ list that scammers use to bilk the elderly out of billions a year. Scammers buy lists of older people, who do nice things like donate to worthy causes, or get taken in by a silly infomercial (“Get a tactical screwdriver just like the one used by our military for only $5!”), and sell them to people who scam grandpa and grandma out of money on illicit schemes. Those lists of gullible (read: trusting) people are worth lots of money.

Today, lists of people who give out information freely (I’m looking right at you, Millennials) are worth gold on the internet as targets for identity theft. But at least you will enjoy some free pie while you spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars getting your credit score back.


What Can You Do?

The easy answer is just say no. Really, you don’t need to sell your most precious commodity for free pie. Just pay for it. It will be much cheaper in the long run. When someone asks you for information like your cell phone number, ask for his or hers. Seriously, ask them and see what they say. Exactly.


You Have Another Option?

Yes, I know, you love your free stuff and that is not an option for you. It is like telling a person with heart disease that they should swear off meat, fats and dairy, and exercise more often. They just want a magic pill to make it better instead. I get it.


Ok, Here Are a Few Tips, If You Won’t Just Say No:

  1. Use fake emails. Change them all the time. You will be tracked if you use the same email more than once, so change often. If you don’t need to receive emails to get the benefit, why even bother with a real email. Or name.
  2. Never, ever give out your mobile number. Not to delivery places. Not to your mechanic. Why? How often do you plan on changing your mobile phone number? Giving away your mobile phone number is next in value to divulging your social security number. It’s that permanent for many people, especially for Millennials who tend to move a lot as a cell phone is the only way to track them.
  3. Game the system. Get what you want and don’t give them what they want. At the grocery store, I ask for a new card every time, get my “discount”, and then I throw away the card on my way out. They spend money on cards, I don’t get tracked. Or I ask someone in line to give his or her info. Someone always does.
  4. Move to Europe, or hopefully soon, California. The EU passed the GDPR law to protect consumers and it's a great law. California was on track to enact GDPR for California, but now it looks like we have to wait until 2020 and it will likely be watered down, but still one of the best laws in the US, which is currently the Wild West for scammers and information brokers.

Think it’s too late?  Not necessarily. The most valuable names to resell for scammers (and legitimate companies that nonetheless act like scammers) are those with recent transactions. The sooner you stop giving away your info, the less you will be worth to the people trying to target you. It’s never too late to stop.

Need other ways to protect yourself from marketers? Drop us a line, call or email and we will give you a few more tips that help. Yes, we are a marketing company. No we don’t sell, trade or use your information. Not even for free pie.