ASK KIM


Protect Your Financial Privacy

Kimberly Lankford

Don't toss those privacy policy notices from credit cards -- unless you want your personal information shared.



I keep getting privacy forms for my credit cards, and they're confusing. For example, the form on my Citibank cards has these two choices: "limit the personal information about me that you disclose to nonaffiliated third parties" or "limit the personal information about me that you share with Citigroup affiliates." Can I choose both options?

You can, and you probably should. Since 2001, financial institutions have been required to send their customers annual notices about their privacy policies and to give them a chance to opt out of having their personal information shared with other companies. If you don't act, the financial institutions can share information about your assets, income, debt levels and mortgage payments, in addition to your name and address.

If that doesn't appeal to you, Citibank is giving you two choices: You can restrict the bank from sharing your data with companies that are not affiliated with Citibank, or you can restrict the bank from sharing data about you with its own affiliates. In the case of Citigroup, that would include Smith Barney, Primerica and CitiMortgage.

To get the maximum privacy protection, go ahead and check off both boxes. Consumers who want to keep their personal information under wraps "should take every chance to opt out that's offered," says Tena Friery, of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

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If you don't mind getting a lot of marketing materials and targeted advertising, you don't need to do anything. Financial institutions must usually wait 30 days after sending the opt-out notice before they can start sharing your information. If you have second thoughts at any time, you can tell them to stop. And once you've notified your financial institutions, you don't have to opt out again.

It's easy to toss privacy notices and forms with the rest of your junk mail, so ask the company for another form if necessary. Get information and sample opt-out letters from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse's Web site and the Federal Trade Commission's privacy page.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.




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