Watchdog: Credit bureaus sell sensitive consumer data?

April 13, 2010 at 6:05 p.m.
Updated April 12, 2010 at 11:13 p.m.

Larry Lastinger received a phone call that led to a worrisome realization.

Credit reporting bureaus sell your personal and private information to credit card and other companies. The good news: You can remove your name from the bureaus' sellable lists.

Lastinger, a 51-year-old Goliad man, said he never owned a credit card - and never will. He'd rather pay cash for items and avoid needless interest payments, he said.

He became curious when a telephone saleswoman said she could offer him a better interest rate on all his credit cards.

"She had all my information right there - Social Security number, cell phone number, address and family's names, too," Lastinger said. "The credit bureaus are selling our information without our permission. They're doing this against our knowledge."

Whether you know it or not, federal law allows credit bureaus - Equifax, TransUnion and Experian - to include your name and information on lists sold to creditors, insurers and other groups. In turn, these groups arm themselves with your sensitive information to sculpt consumer-specific sales offers.

Then, they solicit your business by phone, mail and e-mail.

Frank Dorman, spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission, said credit card companies, for example, can buy full credit bureau files and even request information on specific people.

"The amount of information in a credit bureau file can vary greatly, depending on the person and the history," Dorman said.

Norm Magnuson is spokesman for the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade group that represents consumer information companies.

"We feel that lenders should have that information," Magnuson said. "It will allow them to make sound underwriting decisions. Especially in today's economy, that is more important than ever."

The Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1996 - the law that allows the sale of this information - suggests the banking system is dependent upon accurate credit reporting.

So, the law allows the sale of your credit report, which also includes your place of employment, credit accounts and score, loans and the already-mentioned personal information.

The credit bureaus also sell the information to credit monitoring and fraud prevention companies, which use the information to protect consumers, Magnuson said.

Lastinger, the Goliad man, worries specifically about fraud. The credit card company spokeswoman he talked to is based in the Philippines, he said. He wonders: If a third-party telemarketing company in the Philippines has access to his most personal information, what's to stop identity theft?

Incidents of identity theft have increased steadily for more than a decade, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The 1996 federal law does, however, provide you the right to remove your name and file from these sellable lists. By opting out, you prevent consumer credit reporting companies from providing your credit file information to outsiders.

To opt out, visit or call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688).

"I opted out," Lastinger said. "So far, so good."

Bookmark this

A reader asked: Why, when you check out a book, does the library staff give you a grocery store-styled receipt instead of a library card?

First, the library removed stamped library cards about 10 years ago, said Director Dana Williams-Capone. Your signature on those cards posed privacy concerns, she said.

In place of the card, the library used stickers stamped with dates. That system proved costly, damaging and confusing, Williams-Capone said.

"They didn't know which sticker referred to their due date. Also, the stickers covered up parts of the book cover, took time to remove and often damaged the book," she said.

Since June, the library offers receipts, which contain bar codes for each book checked out. Receipts save the library time and money, the director said.

If you lose your receipt, visit to review due dates, place holds on books or to renew a book. You can also call the library's book renewal line at 361-572-6660.

Gabe Semenza is the Public Service Editor for the Advocate. Comment on this story at



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