A spinoff of the credit bureau TRW Inc. is pitching a service to consumers that it says will fend off unwanted offers from telemarketers and in the mail.
Credentials Services International Inc. of Orange, Calif., last week introduced American Privacy Watch - via direct mail. In a two-page letter, the company promised the consumer: "Right now, you're about to take command of your own right to privacy."
To do so, consumers must pay $59 each year for the service. In return, they receive a merged credit report from TRW, Equifax, and Trans Union, plus advice on how to "turn the tables on those obnoxious telephone sales pitch people," a set of "Stop Mailing Me" stickers - and a survey on purchasing preferences.
John P. Ferry, chairman of Credentials, a privately held company that TRW Inc. spun off in October 1994, conceded that "anything we do, someone can do on their own."
A consumer brochure from the company also promises that the Direct Marketing Association, a Washington-based trade group, will be contacted to remove consumers' names from all marketing lists.
The trade group, however, said that its policies require consumers' to contact the association directly. Officials there were surprised that Credentials would make such a claim, when the association's policies clearly prohibit it.
Alan F. Westin, editor and publisher of the newsletter Privacy and American Business, said that "there will be many services that are going to try to assist consumers in dealing with direct marketers," and that consumer demand would determine if they will become successful.
Mr. Westin pointed to a survey that his newsletter and Equifax Inc., the Atlanta-based credit bureau, conduct each year on consumer privacy issues. The survey showed that about 17 million people, or 9% of the respondents, said unwanted mail solicitations are an invasion of privacy.
"Marketers would say 17 million people represent a potential market," said Mr. Westin.
Detroit-based Polk Co. offers a similar direct-mail service called Buyers Choice. Both Credentials and Polk Co. send out consumer surveys listing categories of interest, such as gardening, fashion, and outdoor activities. Consumers select categories in which they are interested, and note which categories they don't want to receive mail on. However, the companies differ in how they use the information.
Buyers Choice surveys are funded by direct marketers, who use data service bureaus like Acxiom Corp. to develop lists of people to solicit, while Credentials simply sends out the information for free to what Mr. Ferry described as the "top 100 marketers," and to companies that request the information.
Eventually, Mr. Ferry said, Credentials wants to sell American Privacy Watch to credit-card holders. He said eight banks have inquired about it as an enhancement to their credit card programs.