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PIRG:  How to Opt-Out of Affiliate Sharing By Banks

WHAT IT IS: Banks used to be confidential places you put money to earn interest. Well, today that's all changed. Not only is your interest being gobbled up by higher and higher fees, like the ATM surcharge, but, instead of protecting the confidentiality of your financial records, banks are making your financial life an open book. Your bank routinely shares information from your accounts with its corporate affiliates, and even with outside marketing companies, so that it can figure out how to market new products to you. These products may range from products you might need or want to consider -- but should always research on the open market for the best deals -- to absolute junk, like add-on death and dismemberment insurance, or even unsuitable investments. And while it's bad enough that a bank might use information about what you buy with your credit cards to offer you new products, things are getting worse due to the rapid pace of corporate mergers. Now that banks are merging with insurance and investment companies, expect more privacy invasions and expect privacy nightmares as well.

  • Nationsbank marketed complex uninsured investments based on derivative hedge funds to a targeted group of unsophisticated senior citizen customers who simply wanted to renew their insured CDs. Although it, of course, admitted no violations, it paid fines and penalties totalling nearly $7 million to the SEC and other regulators, as well as over $35 million in a private class action to its customer victims.
  • Citibank's merger with the Travelers Insurance Group poses such grave privacy risks that the new firm has promised regulators not invade privacy even in ways that are allowed by our weak laws. A consumer could potentially be denied a credit card or mortgage if Travelers says they are a bad health risk. That's an Orwellian Brave New World.

PIRG has been working to stop other bank privacy invasions, as well, including fingerprinting of non-customers who want to cash checks. We're working with Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and John LaFalce (D-NY) on legislation to require banks to comply with strong information privacy principles. They all introduced tough pro-consumer financial privacy bills in the last Congress. Unfortunately, none were enacted. Here's a recent letter we sent to bank regulators describing all the ways banks invade your privacy through lopholes in the laws. Esteemed former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said it best, when he described privacy this way: "The most cherished of rights, the right to be left alone." Send the bank a letter and tell them it's none of your business!


TO: MY BANK (Credit card, car loan, mortgage, or checking account bank)
FR: Type your name and full address exactly as it is included in your account statement. Note that - to protect your privacy - we haven't told you to include your social security number or account numbers in this sample letter. The bank may write back and demand them, but we think they should complete these requests without them.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to exercise my rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act to opt-out of allowing the bank to share information about me and my account(s) either with its affiliates or any direct marketing companies. I learned about the practice from a recent article in the New York Times and do not remember receiving any description of this practice from the bank.

I believe that this letter should be adequate to confirm my request. Please send me a confirmation that I have opted-out of any affiliate information sharing or direct marketing uses of my information. Please also tell me how long the opt-out will last. If you need more information to complete this request, contact me.

Sincerely, Your Name,

(printed, and signed)

Please send a copy of any interesting letters you receive to Ed Mierzwinski to use in PIRG advocacy. Thanks for helping!
        Ed Mierzwinski
        U.S. PIRG
        218 D St SE   
        Washington, DC 20003



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