Protect Your Personal Information
Today, it’s quick and easy to get a credit card approved, transfer money from one account to another, renew your driver’s license, fill a prescription from your doctor at your local pharmacy, use store loyalty cards, and purchase products online. But you pay for this convenience by providing more opportunities for your personal information to be changed, stolen, or reported inaccurately. Companies can also use the information you have shared to direct their future marketing efforts or can sell the information to other companies. To help protect your privacy, follow these tips:
- Look for privacy statements on websites, sales materials, and forms you fill out. If a website claims to follow a set of established voluntary standards, read the standards. Don't assume they provide the level of privacy you want.
- Ask how your personal information will be stored and used.
- Only provide the purchase date, model/serial numbers, and your contact information of warranty registration forms.
- Discuss privacy with others in your home. Everyone, even children, should understand what information is not appropriate to share on the phone, while using a computer, tablet, smart phone and in other situations.
Check with your state or local consumer agency to find out whether any state laws that help protect your privacy. Some companies and industry groups have also adopted voluntary policies that address privacy concerns.
Creating Secure Passwords
The number of passwords that you need on a daily basis can be overwhelming. It is tempting to use the same password across several sites; however to get the most protection available, you should use different passwords on each site and change your passwords periodically. The goal for creating passwords is to strike a balance between being something that is easy to remember and unique. Some general tips for creating a secure password include:
- Use a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
- The longer password, the better it is.
- Don’t use your name, birthday, license plate, favorite sports teams or other facts that are easily guessed.
- Create a password based on a phrase. For example “A stitch in time saves nine” can be translated into the password “Ast!Ts9”. where each character represents a word in the phrase.
- If you must use the same password on several websites, add a prefix or suffix. For example, use “Ast!Ts9:4bnk”for your bank account and “Eml: Ast!Ts9” for your email account.
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Specialty Consumer Reports
Credit reports are not the only reports that you can get for free. The same law that allows you to get a free credit report each year also allows you to get a copy of specialty consumer reports. Just like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion collect your credit information, there are other companies that collect information about your medical, insurance, rental/tenant and alternative credit histories. Landlords, insurers and other companies buy these reports to help them decide whether or not they will offer their services to you.
Just like your credit reports, you have the right to a free annual report from each specialty consumer reporting agency. Since there is no centralized place to order these reports (like there is for credit reports), you must contact each agency individually. If you are planning to rent an apartment, ask the landlord for the name of the screening company that they use and request a copy of your report in advance. Similarly if you are getting a new insurance policy, you can contact the consumer reporting agencies that collect related information. If there is a mistake on your report, you have a right to correct it.
For a list of specialty consumer agencies, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (PDF) or Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. If you need to file a complaint about a consumer reporting agency, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.
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