It’s not just junk emails that are annoying. There is also spam emails clogging up your info and now, more and more it’s an unsolicited, a “cold call’ , or a letter addressed to you personally but not one you requested?

This is direct marketing and all of us are bound to have been targeted in some way over in the past few years.

But if you find this relentless marketing irritating you can do something about it.

Tina Leonard explains your rights and how to get off those marketing lists.

Postal

The traditional and oldest form of direct marketing, this is when you get a letter addressed to you and it is promoting a product or service.

If you want to stop receiving those letters addressed to a named person:

You have a right to contact the sender telling them you no longer want to receive their direct marketing, and they are legally obliged to respect this.

If the organisation has received your details from someone else they are obliged to tell you from whom, so that you can contact them to ask them to stop using or distributing your details.

Contact the Irish Direct Marketing Association (www.idma.ie) and request to be added to their Mail Preference Service in order to have your name removed from direct mailing lists. To do this you have to fill out a form (available online), sign it and post to them. It can take up to four months to take effect and registration lasts five years.

If you are on the electoral register then know that there are two versions. One is the “full register”, which can only be used for electoral purpose but the second, the ‘edited register’, which contains a sub-set of names and addresses on the full register can be used by companies for direct marketing. You can opt out of the editor register, which means that your details can’t be used for direct marketing purposes. Firstly, to find out whether you are ‘in’ or ‘out’ of this list check your details on www.checktheregister.ie. If you have not opted out and you want to avoid receiving unsolicited marketing material based on the electoral register, contact your local authority, where the register is maintained. If you are registering for the first time, you can tick the ‘opt-out’ box on the form

Bear in mind that flyers from local take-aways or letters addressed to ‘the occupant’ or ‘the householder’, don’t necessarily involve the use of your personal information and so data protection legislation doesn’t apply. The best that you can do is put a sign on your letter-box saying ‘no advertising please’, ‘no junk mail’, or something similar to that effect.

Email

Emails for the purpose of direct marketing cannot be sent to you without your prior consent unless it’s from someone with whom you have a current customer relationship.

A ‘current customer relationship’ means that you have given them explicit consent to use your details within twelve months prior to them sending the direct marketing email or details that were given to them in the context of a sale within twelve months.

Even so, you should always be given a means of refusing the use of your contact details at the time when you are giving them, and you should be given a similar option in each email received.

If you haven’t given that consent within the last twelve months, if the sender’s identity is disguised or concealed in some way or if they haven’t provided you with an opt-out address, contact the Data Protection Commissioner to complain.

Having said that, it is near to impossible to stop the myriad spam emails that can wing their way to your ‘in box’ from anywhere in the world. The best solution there is to make sure your spam filter and high security settings are switched on, on your email account.

Phone

Call it direct marketing, ‘cold calling’ or an ‘unsolicted call’ but basically it’s a call that you didn’t request and one where the company is trying to sell you goods or services.

The easiest way to avoid direct marketing phone calls is to contact your phone provider and tell them you do not want to receive any. All phone numbers contained in public phone books or available through directory enquiries are held in a central record known as the ‘National Directory Database’ (NDD). ?When you contact your phone provider to tell them you do not want to receive direct marketing calls, they will make sure that this is recorded in the NDD.

This process can take up to five working days, but it can take up to 28 days after the information has been recorded in the database for marketers to access the opt-out listing (it depends on how often they update).

Not all calls will be stopped. A business can still contact you for marketing purposes if you are or recently were a customer. It can do this even if your number is included in the opt-out listing, unless you tell them that you do not want them to phone you. You might also receive a marketing call if you provided phone details to a company, for example by entering a competition or registering to become a member. If you do not want the company to phone, say that when you give your details. ?If you get an unwanted marketing call from a business that you have had no prior dealings with, or to which you have not provided contact details, tell the caller you do not want to be contacted by that company again.

If you get the call to your mobile, know that it is an offence for a marketer to call you for marketing purposes unless you have consented to receive the calls to your mobile.

o f you get a sales call more than 28 days after your details have been recorded in the opt-out register of the NDD, or after you have told the company in question not to contact you again, you can complain to the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

Other Tips

1. If you’re giving details in the context of a competition or promotion or survey, read the terms and conditions as they may say that your details will be used for marketing purposes or passed on to a third party. But even if you still apply and give your details you can always change your mind later and inform that organisation that you do not want to receive marketing information.

2. Ask why your contact details are needed and if you are not happy with the answer or don’t trust the company, you have to judge for yourself whether you want to give your personal contact details.

3. If you are supplying details on a public web forum, be aware that these may be viewed by people and are commonly used by unscrupulous marketers, so be careful.

4. If you own a mobile phone, be careful who else you let use it. It has been known for "friends" to subscribe each other to various services. The same applies to your e-mail account.

5. Lastly, be on guard for emails or phone calls that claim to be from an organisation but in fact are from scammers looking for your personal data. Common scams last year included calls from a company advising you your computer had a virus and asking for your credit card details so that they could fix the ‘problem’ remotely and also emails purporting to be from banks and even Revenue looking for personal information. The two key things here are 1) never give credit card details to someone over the phone who has called you and whom you don’t know, have no written information etc and 2) your bank, Revenue or any other company with whom you hold an account would never ever ask for information like your PIN number in this way, so delete and ignore.

Office of the Data protection Commissioner: www.dataprotection.ie