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.
Your FinancesThe 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 acxiom.com.
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 annualcreditreport.com (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 annualcreditreport.com 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.