You shouldn’t believe half of what you read in e-mail

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – There’s a new “friendly warning” hitting e-mail boxes around the country.

The warning being passed along over the Net concerns new consumer privacy regulations and credit bureaus.

In general, it reports that as of July 1 credit bureaus are allowed to release credit information, mailing addresses, and phone numbers to anyone who requests it.

It then gives a telephone number you can call if you would like to “opt out” of this release of information, and warns that if you don’t wait and do it right you will opt out for just two years instead of for good.

It may read like a friendly warning, said Nancy Granovsky, family economic specialist with the Texas Cooperative Extension, but it’s a hoax.

“There is no way they (credit bureaus) can give out personal information to anyone who asks for it,” she said.

FTC more specific. The Federal Trade Commission gets a little more specific and warns consumers this roaming e-mail is “full of half-truths and misinformation.”

On the FTC Web site (www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/optalrt.htm), the FTC tries to straighten out this confusion by explaining that:

* Credit bureaus can only release credit information for legitimate business need, as covered in the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

* Lenders and insurers may “prescreen” you by using the information in your credit history file to send you offers you didn’t request. The toll-free number in the roaming e-mail – 888-567-8688 – is, in fact, the number you can use if you want to take you name off the list for these prescreened offers. It has no other purpose.

* The July 1 date mentioned in the e-mail has to do with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which gave financial institutions a July 1 deadline to send their customers notices of the institutions’ privacy policies and to describe ways consumers can opt-out of their information-sharing policies.

It has nothing to do with consumers.

Consumers can opt-out of these information-sharing policies any time.

A little different. That may be where the confusion started, Granovsky said. Under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act – designed to preserve a little more consumer privacy, not destroy it – financial institutions are now required to inform their customers exactly how much they keep their customers’ information private, and how the customers can remove their own names from any information-sharing lists these institutions use.

And by the way: If you do call that toll-free number listed in the e-mail, you will be given the option of having your name removed from prescreened lists for two years (press 1); having your previously-removed name put back on lists (press 2); or having your name removed from lists permanently (press 3). You will also be expected to provide some personal information.

Just don’t expect the call to go through the first time you dial.

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