Saturday, November 23, 2013

The 3 Credit Bureaus and Your Privacy

Control Who Sells Your Information: Read the Fine Print
Equifax, with TransUnion, and Experian (mentioned below) make up the Big 3 Bureaus
A few weeks back Financial Plus Federal Credit Union held a seminar here at the Grand Blanc branch outlining steps to protect your identity and what to do if it is stolen. It was an informative program and one bit of information I learned really bothered me, not only because demographic information like spending habits, age, and likely income was being sold, but that it is the very organizations that help us fight ID theft which offer it for sale.

Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, the big 3 credit bureaus where our credit histories are stored and our credit scores calculated each offer, for a price, lists to marketing companies that include a great deal about our lives. It is from these lists that marketing companies target their mailings and phone calls. I get at least 1 or 2 pre-approved credit card offers a week. Do I bank at any of these card companies? No. Did I ask to open a new line of credit? No. But here is this offer nonetheless, waiting for my signature to complete the account creation. 

Think about this: how does Company X, who I have no relationship with, know that it is really me who completes the form? Do they know my signature? I doubt they can verify this, and frankly, I doubt they care. They're hoping I'm gonna max out the limit they're offering and pay 20% interest for 25 years while I try to pay off my careless purchases anyway. So what can be done? These offers are fodder for credit thieves. 

This is where reading the fine print is helpful. I chose a credit bureau, Experian, and found the privacy policy at the bottom of their website. I began reading their policy and found it begins with some flowery language about how they take my privacy seriously, but suggest many people like buying items from their home and so they offer our information to marketing companies to facilitate this convenience. Never mind I didn't ask for it and have proven able to sign up for specific companies' mailings myself. The magazines and other relatively harmless junk mail aren't my real concern, it is the credit card offers (although it is true that if everyone opted out a great deal of paper would be saved, too). 

While a legal endeavor, the fact that these transactions continue reek of a conflict of interest. Where do we report an instance of identity theft? Credit bureaus. Who is selling bits of our personal lives to third parties? Credit bureaus. But, as Experian admits: we have a choice. If you're uncomfortable knowing your information is being sold, or you simply wish to reduce your junk mail visit Experian's Opting Out page or call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT.

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