tendencies about you which just aren’t true,” warns Jodi Beebe, hotline director for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. And these false conclusions could impact how companies treat you or whether they choose to do business with you at all.
“As you see more industries start to coordinate between themselves, you’ll see where a seemingly innocuous piece of information could potentially have a negative impact in another aspect of your life,” warns Beebe. On a basic level, today’s climate may enable your bank to turn your financial statements over to its securities subsidiary or insurance division so that they can push additional services. But take the scenario a step further. “Your medical records could get into the hands of the bank where you’re attempting to get a home loan,” predicts Beebe. “This could impact the outcome.”
To safeguard your privacy, find out whether an Internet site sells your information to other providers before you fill out any registration materials. If you decide to make a purchase, be sure the site is secure. Also get off junk mailing lists through www.privacy.org. And when you discard any paperwork with your personal information on it, make sure you run it through a shredder. Remember only your employer, accountant, bank, or loan institution really needs access to your Social Security number. In addition, stay abreast of changing laws and policies that may infringe upon your privacy so that you’ll be better able to express your discontent.
Protect yourself from scams. As information becomes more widely available and technology continues to advance, the potential for scams is expected to rise. Already “identity takeover is the fastest growing white-collar crime,” advises Holly Cherico, vice president of communications in the Better Business Bureau. Technology allows surfers to make purchases, open accounts, and get loans without providing proof of identity. Someone can steal your identity by shooting those facts to different sources online or b
y mailing in various applications. But there are other scams as well. In 1999, the NCL reported that online auction complaints were the No. 1 Internet offense. In addition, various telephone scams will continue plaguing residents and business owners.
That’s why it’s important to practice savvy shopping habits when purchasing from brick-and-mortar retailers, as well as over the Web. Limit your purchases to companies you are familiar with or that have been used by people you know. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau to find out if any firms that you plan to patronize have complaints lodged against them. And be particularly wary of international companies. “Consumers are being enticed by what they perceive to be great deals in other countries,” comments Cherico. But she cautions against overseas purchases because it’s hard for consumers to resolve complaints. Instead she suggests you “don’t make the purchase or at the very least charge the purchase on a credit card so that you can dispute the charge and have it re-solved.” These safety measures will ensure you spend your dollars on products and services that are in your best interest.