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E-mail causes consumer panic


August 5, 2001

NEW YORK -- There's a lot of useful information for consumers on the Internet. There's also a lot of misinformation.

Take the case of an e-mail that's been cascading across the nation with a "warning" that credit bureaus, starting July 1, will release consumers' personal information "to anyone who requests it" unless consumers call a toll-free number to opt out.

It's not true. But worried consumers have kept the phones lit up at consumer advocacy groups and trade associations. The e-mail has been so widely circulated that even the Federal Trade Commission has issued an alert to set the record straight.

"We've gotten a lot of e-mails and phone calls from concerned consumers," said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. "The high volume signals to me that consumers are very concerned about their financial privacy."

The problem with the offending e-mail is that, like most rumors, it contains grains of truth.

July 1 was the deadline for banks, brokerages and insurance companies to notify customers of new privacy policies. Under the rules, consumers can prevent financial institutions from sharing personal information. "We want to make it perfectly clear that a consumer credit report is provided only to legitimate businesses for the purpose of making a determination on the extension of credit and other consumer benefits," said Norm Magnuson, a vice president with a Washington, D.C. trade group.

On The Net: www.privacyrights.org.

Experian: www.creditexpert.com.

www.acb-credit.com

www.aba.com.


AT A GLANCE

The text of an e-mail, which is largely incorrect, that has been circulated widely and has raised the concern of many consumers:

"Just wanted to let everyone know who hasn't already heard, the four major credit bureaus in the U.S. will be allowed, starting July 1, to release your credit info, mailing addresses, phone numbers … to anyone who requests it.

If you would like to 'opt out' of this release of info, you can call (888) 567-8688.

It only takes a couple of minutes to do, and you can take care of anyone else in the household while making only one call. You'll just need their Social Security number."

The Federal Trade Commission, in a "consumer alert" posted at www.ftc.gov, says "this e-mail is full of half-truths and misinformation."

by ASSOCIATED PRESS, Copyright © The Modesto Bee.


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