Protecting Your Privacy

Legislation to stop information hounds in their tracks

Only a few decades ago, ensuring one’s privacy involved little more than buying the best home security system and a state-of-the-art car alarm. But in today’s digital age, protecting your privacy requires a lot more diligence. Before you panic, read on for tips on how to protect your privacy and learn what the federal government is doing to ensure that your information isn’t distributed to every spammer, mortgage loan consolidator, credit card company, and pizza parlor within a 20-mile radius of your home.

The next time a business requests your personal information, ask if the information is necessary to complete the sale. If it’s not, just say no. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (www.epic.org) also suggests that consumers avoid returning product warranty cards and completing consumer surveys.

Sheila Adkins, the associate director of public affairs for the Council of Better Business Bureaus (www.bbb.org), says consumers should further protect themselves by choosing to opt out of having their personal information sold or passed on to data brokers or certain third parties.

Thanks to the Financial Modernization Act of 1999, also known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, consumers can request that personal financial information held by financial institutions, which include banks, securities firms, insurance companies, and companies providing financial products and services to customers, not be sold.

There is a catch, however. “It’s important for consumers to know that information brokers have the right to trade your information with affiliates, and you can’t opt out,” says Jerry Flanagan, a consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “For example, if Citigroup, which has 1,600 affiliates, including telemarketing companies and brokerages, chooses to sell your information to them, there’s nothing you can do about it.” Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission and states across the country are working hard to enforce and create better privacy laws.

For more information about how you can protect your privacy, contact The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (www.con sumerwatchdog.org).

ACROSS THE WEB