3 ways to protect your consumer privacy

Remember privacy? I do.

I recall the days when bank officers and financial advisors took pride in keeping their clients’ business confidential. Of course, that was before price tags were attached to consumers’ personal information.

Now, businesses try to gain as much personal information about us as they can in order to either build more targeted lists of potential customers or sell it to other businesses.

Why is this blatant use of your personal information allowed? Why should the personal information you divulge to a business become a source of income for them?

And why should you now be bombarded by junk mail, spam emails and unwanted phone calls from the businesses that purchase your information?

Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission has started moving into this arena more forcefully recently and Congress is beginning to insist that businesses behave in a responsible fashion.

But you can be your own best friend – or worst enemy – when it comes to your privacy, merely by how you protect it.

A Bull’s Eye on Your Back  

Recently I visited amazon.com, looking closely at a couple of books I was considering buying. The next time I went to that site, those very books were being singled out, trying to lure me in for a purchase.

Creepy, right?

Anytime we let someone know we’re interested in a subject, such as through a purchase or a subscription to a magazine or online, some business is certain to pick up on that and target us with a related offer.

In addition to wanting to know about our habits, diets and entertainment choices, many businesses are interested in our financial lives, including where we work, how much we earn, whether we pay our bills on time, how much debt we’re carrying and a lot more.

Those spies include companies that extend credit, employers and landlords, and they’ll use that information to make decisions regarding loans, hiring and renting.

Following are a few steps you can take to protect your privacy:

  • Just say “no.” When asked for your Social Security number, just say “no” unless divulging your number is the only way you’ll be considered for a job or loan.
  • Use a post office box number instead of your street address when you want something mailed to you.
  • Pay for products and services in cash as often as possible. Using credit and debit cards leaves a paper trail.

Next time we’ll look at more on this subject, including credit reports and junk mail.

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