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Simple Strategies to Avoid Privacy Leaks

Reduce your junk mail, stop identity theft, and prevent your personal information from ending up in the wrong hands.

By Adam Bluestein
White mailbox filled with mailMonica Buck

Your Finances

The danger: Opening a bank or brokerage account, buying insurance, getting a credit card.
What you're exposing: Banks and brokerage and insurance companies routinely share financial information about their customers with affiliated businesses and other third parties.

Protect yourself: Be sure to opt out of having your information shared. Under federal law, most financial institutions are required to provide a privacy notice and a chance to opt out when you apply for an account or a loan and on an annual basis thereafter. If you don't see an opt-out box on your application or a toll-free number for opting out, call the company's customer-service number and ask how to do it. The Junkbusters site has printable opt-out form letters for financial institutions and credit-card issuers.

The danger: Buying a home, getting married, having a baby.
What you're exposing: These major life events are recorded by a government agency, and the information becomes part of the public record―meaning direct marketers that pay the courts and vital-records offices for your information can use it to send targeted mailings ("Congratulations, New Homeowner!").
Protect yourself: Get off the lists of one of the biggest sellers of public-records info. Call Acxiom's Consumer Advocate Hotline at 877-774-2094, or request an opt-out form at

The danger: Fraudulent credit-report services that approach you via e-mail.
What you're exposing: Federal law entitles U.S. citizens to order one free copy of their credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer credit-reporting companies―Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion―every 12 months. Ordering and carefully checking these reports is the best way to ensure you haven't unknowingly become a victim of identity theft. But if you fall for one of the many credit-report-related scams out there, you could be in worse shape than ever.
Protect yourself: "Order the reports yourself―straight from the source," says Beth Givens, founder and director of Privacy Rights, a consumer information, research, and advocacy program. The only authorized source for your free annual credit reports from the three nationwide consumer credit-reporting companies is (or call 877-322-8228). The reporting companies will not send an e-mail asking for your personal information. If you get an e-mail or see a pop-up ad claiming it's from or one of the big-three consumer credit-reporting companies, do not reply or click on any links―it's almost surely a scam. If you order a report through the website, don't use a public computer, and double check the URL to make sure you don't fall for an impostor site―there are lots of them. If you're receiving a credit report by mail, have it sent to a secure mailbox, and request that the report display only the last four digits of your Social Security number.

Read More About:Work & Life

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