Privacy is an important principle. As a consumer, you benefit when information about you is used to approve your credit application, notify you about a sale at your favorite store, stock the supermarket shelves with more products you like, or improve customer service at a business you patronize. You may also be happy to have your information passed along to other companies that want to offer you their products or services. On the other hand, you may not want to receive unsolicited telemarketing calls or mail. And you could be treated unfairly, or even become a victim of crime, if your personal information is inaccurate or misused.
You have privacy rights for certain personal records such as you credit reports, but many situations aren't covered by the law. To address consumers' privacy concerns, some companies and industry groups have adopted voluntary policies. Look for that information in sales literature, on web sites, or on any forms companies ask you to fill out. If you don't see anything about how your personal information will be handled, ask. By doing business with companies whose privacy practices meet your approval, you can protect yourself from abuse and use your purchasing power to help promote good privacy policies.
Tips for Protecting Your Privacy
Use cash. If you don't want to end up on marketing lists. Businesses can combine your purchase information with your address on your check.
Don't provide information that isn't required. For instance, a manufacturer may ask about your income or occupation on a warranty registration form. That information isn't necessary for warranty purposes, so it's up to you whether or not to provide it. You may want to give your phone number so you can be contacted easily about product recalls.
If you do not want to hear from a telemarketer again, ask to be placed on its "do not call" list. For future reference, keep the name of the firm and the date you asked not to be called. You can sue telemarketers in small claims court if they call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. or after you have asked to be on their do not call lists. For each violation, you can sue for $500. For more information, obtain Private Citizens' guide, "So You want to Sue a Telemarketer" (1-800-CUT-JUNK).
If you are concerned about having your number in the phone book, your phone company will remove it from the directory for a small fee. On the Internet, check online directories such as WhoWhere.Com and "peoplefinder" links on portal sites such as Yahoo.com. Most sites allow you to remove your number. (If you have an unlisted number, it won't be there.)
Ask what information about you may be tracked and how it is used. Supermarket scan cards, for example, enable you to get special sale prices without clipping coupons. But your purchasing history could also be sold to other companies.
Be especially careful with sensitive personal information. Your social security number should not be requested except by an employer, government agency, lender, or credit bureau. If that information falls into the wrong hands, it can be used by someone to impersonate you in order to steal from your accounts or to steal from others in your name. Many states no longer use social security numbers on drivers licenses, or offer random numbers as alternatives. Some states also bar merchants from asking consumers to put their social security numbers on checks or credit card slips.
Guard your financial account numbers. Only provide your credit card, charge card, debit card, calling card, or bank account number if you're using that account to pay for a purchase or you're applying for credit. It isn't necessary to give that type of information for any other reason.
Guard your Social Security number. Your Social Security number must be provided to certain government agencies, including tax authorities, the Social Security Administration and Medicare. Financial institutions are required to obtain each customer's Social Security number, but many businesses use this number to identify a customer when they don't have to. Any time you are asked for your Social Security number, question what it will be used for and if it's really needed. Sometimes another number or secret code can be substituted.
Pay an extra fee to have your phone number unlisted.
Screen your calls. You can use an answering machine to listen to a caller and decide whether you want to pick up. There are also optional telephone services that you can buy to accept calls only from certain numbers, or to see the name and number of the person calling you (Caller ID). Check with your local telephone company.
Keep your phone number private. You can buy a service to block others from using Caller ID to see your name and the number you're calling. But be aware that this blocking may not work with every type of number you call. Ask your local phone company exactly how the service works. You can also get an unlisted or unpublished phone number for a fee. This will reduce calls from strangers but will not stop callers that are randomly dialing numbers or marketers that obtain your number from other sources.
Don't allow your credit record to be checked except for legitimate reasons. A lender or employer can check your credit record. But, it's illegal for a business to check your record unless you've requested assistance in obtaining financing. Too many inquiries can hurt your credit rating by making it appear that you are trying desperately to get credit.
Check your credit report regularly. Once a year should be enough, but you may want to check it more frequently if you believe that someone else has impersonated you in order to get credit or other benefits in your name. There is a small charge to get a copy of your report, but there is no fee for correcting any inaccurate information that it may contain.
Never give anyone your computer password. Fraudulent companies or individuals may try to trick you into providing your password by pretending to be your online or Internet service provider in order to use your access, at your expense. Your service provider already has your password, and no one else should need it.
Be aware of "cookies" on the Internet. A web site can transfer a file, called a cookie, to the hard drive of your computer when you visit in order to track your activities on its site. This information is used for customer service or marketing purposes, but you can usually specify if you don't want to create a cookie. Screen cookies or use a secure anonymous remailer site when you surf the Internet.
Make sure it's safe before you provide financial information online. If you are providing your credit card or other account number by computer to make a purchase, check to see that the company uses a secure system so that the information cannot be intercepted by someone else.
Before you do business with company, find out its policy on selling or sharing customer data and whether or not you can opt out. Ask for a full explanation of the company policy, if an employee doesn't know, ask to speak to a supervisor. Once a company has sold information about you and your transactions to marketing firms, it can be too late to remove your name from marketing lists.
Unsolicited sales communications sent by fax must by law contain a toll-free number you can call to have your name removed from future fax broadcasts.
Talk about privacy concerns with your children and other household members. Everyone in your household should understand what information you feel is and is not appropriate to provide on the phone, while using a computer, and in other situations.
In addition to various federal privacy laws, many states have their own privacy laws concerning telemarketing, employment, using social security numbers, credit card or checking account numbers, medical records, mailing lists, credit reports, debt collection, computerized communications, insurance records and public data banks. Check with your state or local consumer agency to find out where to get information about specific privacy rights.
Consumer Protection Division
Office of Attorney General
Indiana Government Center South
402 West Washington Street, 5th Floor
Indianapolis, IN 46204
317-232-6330 Toll free in IN: 1-800-382-5516
You Can Opt Out of Marketing Lists
You have a right to request removal, or to "opt out," from marketing lists for credit card and insurance companies. The credit bureaus must honor your request in accordance with recent privacy amendments to the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). To contact the FTC or make a complaint, call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or write to the FTC Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.S., Room 130, Washington, D.C. 20508.
Your local telephone company also might offer services such as "Privacy Manager" or "Call Intercept, which use Caller ID to stop any calls listed as "private," "out of area," "unavailable," "unknown," or "blocked" from getting through.
You can Opt out of Direct Marketing Association members' direct mail campaigns, telemarketing lists, and bulk e-mail servers. This is a trade group of telemarketers. To join their national do-not-call list, register online at www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offtelephonedave. By law, telemarketing companies must honor individual requests for 10 years.
Twenty-seven states, including Indiana, have passed do-not-call laws with restrictions on telemarketers.
See Indiana's do-not-call information.
How To "Opt Out" Of Credit-Related Marketing Lists
You can contact the credit bureaus and have them remove your name and address from major credit bureau lists for unsolicited credit and insurance offers for two years. If you wish to be removed for a more substantial length of time, complete and return an "opt-out" form, provided on request from the credit bureau, and you will be off these lists permanently. To request the "opt-out" form, you may call: 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688). This number is good for all three credit bureaus. A phone call or letter to any one of the three nationwide credit bureaus will get you off the lists as well. Write or phone:
Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc.
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
1 (800) 378-2732
National Consumer Assistance Center
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013-0949
1 (888) EXPERIAN
Trans Union Corporation
P.O. Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
1 (800) 916-8800
FDIC Privacy Rule: Materials to help financial institutions and consumers understand the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act's new privacy protections.
American Civil Liberties Union provides a wealth of privacy-related information on "cyberlieberties," workplace rights, data collection, and wiretapping.
Center for Democracy and Technology, 1634 I St. NW #1100, Washington, DC 20006. Phone number: (202) 637-9800. Fax number: (202) 637-0968. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org URL: http://www.cdt.org. Works to promote democratic values and constitutional liberties in the digital age.
Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1550 Bryant St. #725, San Francisco, CA 94103. Phone number: (415) 436-9333. Fax number: (415) 436-9993. E-mail: email@example.com URL: http://www.eff.org . Works to raise public awareness about civil liberties issues, including privacy, arising out of computer-based communications media.
Electronic Privacy Information Center, 666 Pennsylvania Ave. SE #301, Washington, DC 20003. Phone number: (202) 544-9240. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org URL: http://www.epic.org. Maintains an extensive list of privacy resources, including state privacy laws, pointers to privacy resources on and offline, tips for surfing anonymously and using encryption programs and anonymous remailers.
Junkbusters promotes consumer education and methods "to free the world from junk communications."
National Fraud Information Center runs a nationwide toll-free hotline-800-876-7060- for consumers to get advice about telephone solicitations and report possible telemarketing fraud to law enforcement agencies.
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse works to raise consumer awareness of how technology affects personal privacy, offers tips on privacy protection, responds to specific privacy-related complaints from consumers and, when appropriate, refers them to the proper organizations for further assistance. E-mail: email@example.com.
Note: The links on this page that go to web sites outside of this agency's control are provided as a convenience only. The Department takes no responsibility for their content.