Protecting your consumer privacy (pt. 2)

Recently we took a look at the lack of privacy we have as consumers, compared to how things used to be when businesses kept our information confidential out of respect.

Now, many of them sell our information for profit, not caring how it might affect us. We can’t stop them, but there are some actions we can take to minimize the damage.

Among the ways we discussed to protect your privacy were not disclosing your Social Security number, using a post office box instead of a home address when you want something mailed to you and paying for products and services in cash whenever possible.

Now we’re going to look at credit reports and junk mail.

Credit Reports

Credit ratings are often the determining factors in whether we’re able to purchase certain insurance policies, whether we can obtain a particular mortgage and at what rate, and whether our applications for apartments will be accepted. Following are the top three factors that determine your credit score:

  • Payment history. Making consistent on-time payments is the most important thing you can do to earn and maintain a high credit score.
  • Outstanding debt. Balances should be under 35 percent of your credit limit. Higher balances will lower your score.
  • Credit account history. An established credit history will make you a less risky borrower. If you’re about to submit a loan application, don’t close out any old accounts.

Monitoring your credit report on a regular basis can help keep you safe from fraud. It will allow you to see if any accounts have been opened by someone else in your name.

The three main credit bureaus are:

  • Equifax, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374 (800-685-1111), www.equifax.com.
  • Experian, P.O. Box 2104, Allen TX 75013 (888-EXPERIAN), www.experian.com.
  • TransUnion, P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022 (800-916-8800), www.transunion.com.

When you dispute something on your credit report, you should create a substantial paper trail. Mail a letter (rather than sending an email or making a phone call) to the bureau and obtain a proof of receipt.

Clearly explain what the error is on your report and request that it be corrected as soon as possible. Your letter needs to include your date of birth and Social Security number.

Make sure you keep copies of your letter, as well as any correspondence from the bureau regarding the matter.

It’s in the Mail

Tons of junk mail fills the mailboxes of Americans every day. What’s the big deal if you just throw it all away, right?

But it can be a very big deal for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that you can build up a lot of debt without even knowing it and then have to haggle with the credit card issuer and possibly various businesses to make sure you’re not responsible for it.

So….

  • Don’t just throw junk mail away. Shred it. If you toss pre-approved credit card offers into the garbage without shredding them, an identity thief can find them, open up accounts in your name with a change of address, and build up quite a bit of debt for you.
  • Tell magazines to which you have subscriptions that you don’t want them giving your name and address to any marketers. They will sell your information by default if you don’t ask them not to.
  • Opt out of marketing lists by filing a request with the Direct Marketing Association (dmachoice.org; P.O. Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512).

Consumer privacy is a very elusive commodity. It slipped away quickly before we realized that it was even happening, and now it seems almost impossible to get it back.

But by doing everything we can to maintain our individual privacy, and by encouraging lawmakers to make this issue a priority, we should be able to make some significant strides in the future.

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