Technological advances continue to make consumers more and more vulnerable to consumer fraud because their personal information is easily accessible. Unfortunately, there are people in the world that take advantage of this readily available consumer information.
It is common practice for businesses, organizations, and governmental agencies to collect personal consumer information. They collect the information for a large variety of reasons, and they sometimes sell or share this information for financial gain. The sharing, selling, and collecting of consumer information puts consumers at risk of having their personal and financial information stolen. Computer hackers have an easier time of gaining access to this information because it is so widely accessible.
Every consumer has rights to protect his or her information. Privacy of their information is the key to protecting those rights. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an agency that handles all economic issues that affect the American public. Consumer privacy is crucial to its mission. The FTC and many other federal agencies have implemented laws that regulate and govern how financial institutions and companies collect, secure, and use the personal information of consumers.
Consumer privacy is protected by existing federal and state laws. These laws are enacted to safeguard consumers from possible fraudulent practices that may occur when changes are made to how information is shared and collected. Technological advances usually change how information is shared and collected.
There are consumer privacy laws that cover an extensive spectrum of issues including:
- How personal information is collected, shared, and used
- What types of information are protected
Consumer privacy laws safeguard a variety of personal consumer records including:
This is not a complete list of the records and information protected under consumer privacy laws. This list does, however, give you examples of the personal information that is covered and protected under these laws.
A Partial List of Consumer Privacy Laws
Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): In 1970, Congress enacted the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to regulate how consumer information was disclosed by credit reporting companies. The FCRA states that credit reporting companies can only disclose the personal information of consumers to their party companies for legitimate purposes. This law does not restrict either the type or amount of information that is collected.
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998: The COPPA is a law that protects the private information of children under the age of 12 from the possible misuse by online services and websites directly targeted to children. This law requires that parental notification be given following the collection of a child’s information or that parental consent be given before any personal information is collected from children.
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (1999): Financial institutions are regulated by this act in the way they share and use consumers’ personal information. This act also gives consumers restricted control with how the financial institutions share and use their information. Consumers have an opt-out option to help protect their personal information.
A private lawsuit may be filed by consumers on their own or on behalf of a group of people including themselves who have experienced the trials of their privacy rights being violated.
Protecting Your Consumer Privacy Rights
Consumer privacy is at the root of many fraudulent practices. There are several precautions consumers can take to protect their consumer privacy rights. Here are some general guidelines for preserving the privacy of personal information:
- Look for and READ privacy policies when executing transactions on the Internet. If you don’t understand the language, email the site’s webmaster or other contact and ask for clarification.
- Do not use your email account at work to conduct personal business. Many people are not aware that their boss has a legal right to information that passes through the company’s computers, including emails.
- Check to ensure the security of online forms. Usually this involves finding out whether or not forms you submit will be encrypted – a coding process that allows only the intended recipient to view the information. Protected pages on the web will show a “lock” graphic at the bottom of the page, which you can click on to learn more about the certificate of privacy protection issued to the host of the site.
- Make sure to clear your computer’s browsing activity. This is a simple process but differs according to the browser you use. You will want to find the “empty cache” or “clear history” button.
- Do not provide companies with more information than required, especially if they ask for irrelevant information regarding lifestyle, habits, or other preferences.
- Encrypt your emails. Find out if your email program has encryption and if so, use it. If not, Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) provides free encryption for non-commercial use.
- Use your power to opt-out of third party information sharing. Many online companies offer you the opportunity to have your name removed from information sharing lists. While the offer to “opt out” is sometimes not immediately conspicuous, it is your right and you should exercise it.
- Tell your children to ask for your permission before providing their personal information or that of the family online. Congress enacted the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998 to protect the personal information of children under 12 obtained via the Web.
- Use common sense. Always ask questions and seek out resources if you are concerned about the privacy of your personal information. This is especially true for transactions conducted over the Internet, where control of your personal information is limited.