May 5, 2011
By: Jim Oosterman
Recently, there have been several online security breaches resulting in the theft of millions of consumers’ personal and sometimes financial information. These increasingly frequent occurrences have pointed a spotlight toward those companies, including some financial institutions, which share their customers’ personal information with third parties. Sharing this data can put your personal information at risk so it’s important for you to be aware and fully informed about which personal information will be shared.
The Importance of Privacy Policies
Reasons Why Companies Share Your Personal Information
Whether you realize it or not, when you do business with a company that shares your information with other companies, you are allowing your personal information to be shared with many more people than you intended. Being aware of why and how companies share information will enable you to limit your risk.
How Sharing Your Information May Put You at Risk
One recent example comes from the marketing data firm Epsilon. The company announced that customer information from some of Epsilon’s email clients had been exposed by an unauthorized entry into its email system. Though this did not include social security numbers, credit card numbers, or account information it does prompt concern over whether the email addresses might be used by criminals in phishing scams to gain additional personal information.
Most phishing scams start with a criminal contacting you via phone or email, posing as a legitimate person or organization asking you to share key information such as social security numbers or financial account information. One key point to remember is that if anyone contacts you claiming to be a representative of your bank or other financial institution, they would never ask you to provide personal information via telephone or email – this is definitely a red flag. If you get such a request, you should call the toll free number of your bank or financial information directly.
The Federal Trade Commission has good advice online about how to avoid phishing scams and what to do if you feel you may have been a target at ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft.
When it comes to taking actions that will reduce your own privacy risk, be sure to frequently monitor all of your bank accounts. Most financial institutions will notify you if there is unusual activity happening with one of your accounts. However, as a consumer, you should always monitor your accounts for unauthorized activity. Online banking tools make this process fairly easy since you can check in and review account activity in real-time, any time when it’s convenient for you.
If you discover that you’ve been the victim of an identity theft crime, contact the police as soon as possible, place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports. Fraud alerts will help prevent an identity thief from opening accounts in your name. Contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. The sooner you can report the problem and have someone taking action, the better. You should also contact your bank to make them aware of the situation so they can close your accounts.
The Points to Keep in Mind