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Credit card privacy options: How to opt out

By Ben Woolsey

Most junk mail ends up in the garbage, but don't throw out your credit card privacy notice: It includes details of your privacy options. Details found in these notices will tell you how to opt out of future mailings and information sharing.

These notices explain many things. They explain:

What personal finance information the company collects.
Whether they intend to share that information.
What you can do to limit that sharing.
How the company protects your personal financial information.

Many companies must send out these notices. They include:

Banks.
Credit card issuers.
Insurance companies.
Brokerage firms.
Retail stores that issue their own credit cards.
Mortgage brokers.
Check cashers.
Financial advisers.

Why do they share my information?
There are many reasons companies might share your information and not all of them are bad. They may want to offer you new services or introduce new products. And there is money to be made by sharing your information as well. But if you want to learn about their products, then you may want them to share your information. But if you don’t want a lot of junk mail from marketers, then you may want to limit the amount of information that is shared about you.

How can I limit the sharing of my information?
There are ways you can limit the information that is shared. To do that, you must read the privacy notices. They will tell you how the company will handle the sharing of your information.

There is certain information that you have the right to stop, or “opt-out” of. This includes information sent to:

Affiliates: part of the same corporate group as your financial company.
Nonaffiliates: not part of the same corporate group.

But there is some information that companies don’t have give you the right to opt out of. Your financial company can give nonaffiliates information such as:

Your payment history on loans and credit cards. This information goes to credit bureaus that monitor your credit report.
Information demanded by a court order.
Records of your payments to data processing firms.

What does opting out do?
Opting out limits the extent to which a company can share your information. As stated before, it cannot completely stop them, but it will limit what they can send to nonaffiliates. Usually you can opt out within 30 days after you receive your privacy notice. If you don't opt out within that time, they will share your information. But you can still opt out later. Contact your financial company and ask them what to do.

So now what do I do?
There are certain steps you should follow when you receive privacy notices:

1. Read the notice.
2. Ask your financial company any questions you might have.
3. Decide whether to opt out or not.
4. If you choose to opt out, follow the instructions provided with the notice.

What if I need more help?
There are many places you. can turn to if you are concerned about a company's privacy policies. The best thing is to contact that company directly, but if that doesn't help you, then you can contact the federal or state agency that oversees that company's industry. Here is a brief list of those agencies and their contact information for your reference:

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Regulates state-chartered banks that are members of the Federal Reserve System

Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, Stop 801
20th and C Streets, NW
Washington, D.C. 20551
(202) 452-3693
http://www.federalreserve.gov/

Commodity Futures Trading Commission
Regulates commodity brokers, commodity trading advisers, commodity pools, and introducing brokers

Privacy Officer, Office of Chief Counsel
Division of Trading and Markets
Three Lafayette Center
1155 21st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20581
(202) 418-5430
http://www.cftc.gov/

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Regulates state-chartered banks that are not members of the Federal Reserve System

Division of Compliance and Consumer Affairs
550 17th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20429
(877) ASK-FDIC or (877) 275-3342 toll-free
http://www.fdic.gov/

Federal Trade Commission
Regulates any financial company not covered by the other federal regulators such as mortgage brokers, tax and investment services, finance companies, credit bureaus, nonbank lenders, auto dealers, leasing companies, appraisers, real estate settlement services, credit counseling services, and collection agency services

Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20580
(877) FTC-HELP or (877) 382-4357 toll-free
http://www.ftc.gov/
(see also http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/menus/consumer/data.shtm)

National Credit Union Administration
Regulates federally chartered credit unions

Office of Public and Congressional Affairs
1775 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-3428
(703) 518-6330
http://www.ncua.gov/

Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Regulates national banks. These typically include banks with "national" or "N.A." in their names.

Customer Assistance Group
1301 McKinney Street
Suite 3710
Houston, TX 77010
(800) 613-6743 toll-free
http://www.occ.treas.gov/

Office of Thrift Supervision
Regulates federal savings and loan associations and federal savings banks

Consumer Programs
1700 G Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20552
(800) 842-6929 toll-free
http://www.ots.treas.gov/

Securities and Exchange Commission
Regulates brokerage firms, mutual fund companies, and investment advisers

Office of Investor Education and Assistance
450 5th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20549-0213
(202) 942-9634 fax
www.sec.gov/complaint.shtml

Published: November 18, 2005


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