NEWS RELEASE
Office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr.


August 1, 2001 Media Inquiries: Sean Caine 410-576-6357

CURRAN: CONSUMERS CAN OPT-OUT OF SHARING OF INFORMATION BY THEIR BANKS, FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS

Baltimore - Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. today announced his support for federal legislation sponsored by U.S. Senator Paul S. Sarbanes that would give consumers the right to prevent financial institutions from sharing a consumerís personal information with both affiliated and non-affiliated businesses. Curran advised consumers to be on the lookout for privacy notices that financial institutions were required to send by July 1 describing what information they collect and providing an opportunity for consumers to tell the institutions not to share personal information with separate companies.

He said that the federal law, known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, doesnít give consumers the right to stop companies from sharing information with "affiliated" businesses and that Senator Sarbanesí amendment would close that loophole. Consumers who opt-out may currently prevent their information from being sold to or shared with separate companies, like telemarketers or direct-mail companies.

"Consumers need to know they have the right to tell their banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, securities firms, retailers offering credit, and other businesses not to share their private information with other companies," Curran said. "The privacy notices required by federal law may be included as inserts with statements and bills or mailed separately and consumers need to be careful not to confuse the notices with junk mail."

Curran noted that many of the privacy notices being sent are difficult to read, but encouraged consumers to study the notices carefully because the law places the burden on consumers to "opt-out" if they donít want their information shared. He said that financial institutions might share information about a consumerís debt level, mortgage payments, account balances, what consumers buy or where they shop.

To stop information from being sold or shared, consumers need to follow the instructions in each privacy notice, which may also be called a "Privacy Policy" or "Opt-Out Notice." The notice may include a toll-free telephone number to call or direct consumers to send a form or letter to a specified address. If consumers regularly transact business with the institution online, they may receive the notice by e-mail and be asked to opt-out online.

Curran said that consumers may still opt-out even if they no longer have the privacy notices they were sent or who did not receive notices from financial institutions. The law requires privacy notices to be sent each year or whenever a new account is opened. Also, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization, has compiled a list of addresses where consumers may write to "opt-out" on its website, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs24a-OptOutAddresses.htm.

Curran said that some consumers who like to be on mail and phone lists to hear about new products or services may not want to opt-out. He said that additional information about steps consumers can take to protect their privacy is available from the Consumer Protection Division of his office or from his website at www.oag.state.md.us.

Curran also said some consumers have been alarmed by an erroneous e-mail message that has confused the privacy opt-out notices with a credit bureau opt-out service. The e-mail says that the major credit bureaus in the U.S. will be allowed, starting July 1, to release consumersí personal information to anyone who requests it, but that consumers can opt-out by calling a toll-free number. The truth is that credit bureaus have always been able, and still are able, to release consumersí personal information only to companies that extend credit and make credit offers. Consumers continue to have the ability to opt-out of having their information shared with companies that make credit offers by calling 1-888-5OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688). The July 1 deadline for financial institutions to send privacy notices as required by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act does not affect consumersí ability to opt out of information sharing by credit bureaus.

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