Miller offers tips to public about protecting personal information

Monday, February 18, 2002

When your personal information is sold or seeps into circulation, it poses two threats: you could become a victim of "identity theft," and you will receive more solicitations.

Take steps to control your personal information - things like your Social Security number, address, credit card and checking account numbers, and even purchase records.

Be assertive and keep your personal information private:

* Protect your Social Security number (SSN)

Don't print it on your checks. Don't give it out unless it is required (tax forms or employment records, for example.) Be sure your driver's license uses an "assigned" number and not your SSN. SSNs are the key piece of information con-artist most often use to commit "identity theft" - using your information to open accounts in your name and run up expenses.

* "Opt Out" of sharing your financial or personal information

Federal law now requires banks, credit card companies, brokerage firms and insurance companies to send you a "privacy notice" each year - including a toll-free number or form to prohibit them from selling your data to unaffiliated "third-party" companies. (You can ask to "opt out" any time.)

You also may ask your financial institution not to disclose information to their own affiliated companies. You can also tell other businesses you want to opt out of them sharing your information - from your telephone or cable company to charities, stores, catalog companies and web sites.

* Ask the credit reporting agencies not to give your name to solicitors

Credit reporting agencies sell lists to credit card marketers and others. To remove your name, call 1-888-567-8688. An oral request removes your name for two years, or follow prompts for a form to request permanent removal.

* Tell phone solicitors, "Please do not call me again."

When you make this request, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act requires the caller to enter your name on a "do-not-call" list.

* Don't give out financial or unnecessary personal information on prize offers, sweepstakes entries, warranty cards or other information cards. This information may be sold many times over, driving up your mail and telephone solicitations.