Reading privacy inserts important

Published 4:44 pm Friday, January 30, 2009

Here they come again—those privacy notices that your bank and other financial institutions must send you each year. The notices, first sent out in 2001 because of new federal requirements, describe the kinds of personal information these institutions collect about their customers or share with other companies.

In some cases, the notices explain your rights to “opt out” or say “no” to certain types of information sharing practices. You cannot opt out of some types of information transfers, such as information shared to process your transactions. However, you must be provided an opportunity to opt out of other types of information sharing, such as if your bank plans to provide names, addresses and other information to a third party that wants to offer a non-financial product.

Consider these tips:

• Watch for privacy notices. They may be included with another mailing from your financial institutions, often your statement, and not as a separate, distinct piece of mail.

• Toss at your own risk. Read the information carefully. Your financial information is some of the most sensitive information about you. Take the time to understand how your institution protects it and what more you can do.

• If you previously told an institution you want to opt out of information sharing, you do not have to renew your wishes. Instructions remain in effect until you revoke them in writing. However, if you previously opted out but the institution is expanding its information sharing into new areas where you have a right to say no, you would have to opt out again to cover the new practices.

• If you did not previously opt out (and the vast majority of consumers did not), you can do so now or at any other time. Follow the instructions provided by the financial institution to make sure your request is honored.

• Keep good records. Make a note of when you wrote or called an institution to opt out. If you provided your instructions to an employee over the phone, note that person’s name and the time of your call. Good records can save you from submitting duplicate opt-out instructions or help protect you in case of a dispute about whether you asked to opt out.

Opting out will help to cut down on the quantity of junk mail and telemarketing calls you receive, and gives you more control over whom has access to information about you. Opting out does require action on your part, but its well worth the time and effort involved.