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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


When they took away the ability of the credit bureaus to sell lists specific to consumers’ credit history and scores to junk mailers, at first it was like when they thought TV would replace radio. The latter didn’t happen, and neither did the banks and insurance companies give up on finding a way to reach you without credit data. I was a list/data broker at the time this happened in 2002. It all centered around a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) case against TransUnion, which the credit bureau lost on appeal in a lawsuit filed against TU by the FTC in 2000. A three-judge panel in agreeing with a lower court ruled that the individual’s credit history is protected against being sold by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Selling this most sensitive of data was also an obvious violation of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act passed in 1999. In their litigation, TransUnion charged that your Social Security number is not “financial” information; therefore, its sale should not be prevented or regulated. This is one of the dumbest statements I have ever heard from a data broker, particularly one that is also a credit bureau. The Social Security number, along with only a name and address, will open the door to identity thieves with the utmost of ease. But TransUnion and the other data brokers found a way around the regulation as usual, using aggregated data to produce models that would predict a household’s credit worthiness. This was, and continues to be, a major factor in determining your risk when it comes to auto and homeowner insurance. On the other hand, other companies in the field like Genworth Financial Inc. decided the red tape was too complicated, and has begun to rely on non-credit based junk mail. They are a part of General Electric, and I bring them up because I have a life insurance policy with the company, and am aware of their collection and sharing of my personal data. They send out 50 million pieces of junk mail each year, focusing on predictive modeling techniques, according to industry publication, DM News. But once they have captured you as a life insurance customer, here is what they ask for and share where permitted by law. They have my name/address, SS#, income and assets, other credit accounts in my name including payment history and medical data. This is used in the normal manner for eligibility, claims, etc., but it also can be shared with outside “affiliates” to sell us something. And there lies the hitch, since releasing this private information—even though Genworth exclaims the “affiliates” are required to protect our data—is just another location where it sits, waiting to be harvested by the ID theft bad guys. I put affiliates in quotes because companies never explain to you just what that means, or who it includes. I may be paranoid, which I am about my privacy, but this indicates to me there is something to hide.


Anonymous said...

There are companies out there that are trying to protect your privacy, companies like UnlistAssist (dot) com. They realize that your info is out there and can be used for all sorts of mass marketing. UnlistAssist will remove your name/ info from 40 online databases so that your personal privacy is protected, plus you will see a reduction in postal junk mail. They provided this service for 3 years at a time. You ought to check out UnlistAssist (dot) to ensure personal privacy.

Searchlight said...

I believe that NO ONE has the right to collect, much less sell any information on anyone if, that person does not wish to allow it.

How have the credit bureaus managed to get away with doing all of these things. Things that even the government, in many cases is now allowed to do.

How do I "opt out" of the credit bureau system? That is, delete all my information from their data bases and, prohibit them from collecting or selling same?

Jack E. Dunning said...

Searchlight, I am not sure you want to get out of the credit bureau records permanently, even if it was possible, which it probably isn't. That would mean you couldn't apply for credit, a job or insurance. I agree with your thinking, and just maybe this new administration will be more receptive to privacy advocates like The Dunning Letter that are requesting both investigations of the CRAs and more regulation.

In the meantime, you can get out of pre-screened offers that originate from credit bureau files by going here:

Good luck and please keep me posted!

Jack E. Dunning
The Dunning Letter