Savvy Consumer: Numbers to Know

As I cover various topics, I often pass on important phone numbers and Web sites that are helpful to consumers. Usually, I dole out these golden nuggets one a time, but today I decided to hit you with a whole laundry list of them.

The resources that work for me will just as easily work for you, so please … print, save or memorize this list. Share it with your friends, your children, your parents. These are some of the best resources I know. And after all, I am the "Savvy Consumer"!

Stop the Barrage of Credit Card Offers: The big three credit bureaus have given you a way to "opt out" and stop banks from sending you unsolicited credit card offers. Call the number below. Be aware that you will be asked for your Social Security number. By following the prompts, you can opt out for five years. Or you can wait for a later choice in the phone tree and opt out for life. (That requires filling out some paperwork and sending it back.)

(888) 567-8688

Drastically Reduce Junk Mail: The Direct Marketing Association keeps a list of consumers who do not wish to receive what it calls advertising mail. Its members -- major mass marketers -- honor the list voluntarily as a way to prevent the government from starting a mandatory list. Your request must be renewed every five years.

Stop Telemarketers Cold:

The Federal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call registry continues to be incredibly popular.

(888) 382-1222

Get Your Free Annual Credit Report:

Be aware that some private companies have started up Web sites that try to make money from people searching for the free annual credit report registry. Below is the real Web site.

The Nation's Consumer Watchdog:

The Federal Trade Commission looks out for consumers nationally. The FTC's Web site contains dozens of brochures on important consumer topics.

Check a Company's Reputation -- in Advance:

The time to check out contractors, retailers or car dealers is before you do business with them. One easy way is by looking up the company's Better Business Bureau complaint record.

Check Out Charities Before You Give:

There is no law requiring charities to use any particular percentage of your donation for the good cause you want to support. So look them up and see if they are known for spending donors' money wisely.

Forgotten Savings Bonds:

The U.S. Treasury is trying to find the owners of $9 billion worth of unclaimed savings bonds. Could your family have forgotten about bonds purchased 20 or 40 years ago?

Government Auctions:

The federal government auctions all sorts of merchandise confiscated from crooks -- from cars to jewels to golf clubs to top ramen noodles by the ton. But beware. Some shady private auctions try to pass themselves off as government auctions to get your business. Below is the real contact info.

Credible Credit Counseling:

If you're in financial trouble, you may need outside help to pay off your debts and learn to live within a budget. Beware of sleazy companies that pretend they're there to help, then take your money and do nothing for you. The granddaddy of real credit counseling is Consumer Credit Counseling Service. Be aware that signing up for such a service can have a negative impact on your credit rating, but it is certainly better than getting deeper into debt.


Move It, But Don't Lose It:

Moving is one of the most hazardous things consumers can do. After all, you're handing over all your worldly possessions to strangers, and if you choose wrong, you could lose everything you own. The Web site below is run by expert volunteers who even give personalized advice.

Steer Clear of Pyramid Schemes:

Concerned that a business opportunity somebody has presented to you might be a pyramid scheme? The Web site below is run by a former victim who now advises others.