The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 18, 1997 · Page 56
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 56

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, May 18, 1997
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Page 56
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ISSUES THE NEW PRIVACY WARS From thumbprints to information about your children, the battle is escalating. BYTOM —, PROTECT YOURSELF The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse offers these tips for consumers who want to maintain some control over their personal information and who can access it: 1. 'OPT OUr OF MAILING LISTS. Many mail-order firms, magazines and credit card companies provide a box to check if you don't want your name sold to other companies. Contact the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service (RO. Box 9008, Farmingdale, N.Y.I 1735) to reduce junk mail. 2. DISCONNECT TELEMARKETERS. To reduce calls, send your name, address and phone number to the DMA's Telephone Preference Service (RO. Box 9014, Farmingdale, N.Y. 11735). When telemarketers do call, tell them you want to be put on their "don't call list." 3. PROTECT YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER. Give it out only when it is required (tax forms, employment records, most banking, stock and property transactions). 4. GUARD YOUR CREDIT RATING. To learn how to request your credit report, call: Experian ($8 for report, 1-800-682-7654), Equifax ($3-$8, varies by state, 1-800-685-1111) or Trans Union ($8, 1-800-916-8800). • FOR MORE INFORMATION on privacy matters, call the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse hot line (619-298-3396) or visit its Web site (http:// www.privacyrights.org). W HEN PETERTAUSSIG walked into a Wells Fargo Bank to cash a check, he didn't think there'd be any problem. The check, for $77.90, was drawn on Wells Fargo. And even though Taussig wasn't a customer of the bank, he had plenty of identification — a valid driver's license, a passport and two major credit cards — all with his picture. But the bank wanted more: Taussig's fingerprint. "That really outraged me," says Taussig, a Berkeley, Calif., businessman. Bank officials said the fingerprint requirement is designed to cut down on check fraud. But Taussig stormed out of the bank and went to small claims court, seeking payment for the check. If he loses, Taussig says, he plans to sue the bank in civil court. Wells Fargo won't comment on Taussig's suit, but spokeswoman Lorna Doubet says that ''the only time a check with a fingerprint would be retrieved from our records would be if we suspected fraud." Fingerprinting customers is just one of a number of privacy issues consumers face. An entire industry has grown up around gathering information about you. One of the biggest threats to privacy is the use, and misuse, of this electronic information. Companies known as information vendors quietly collect data on millions of people from public and private sources. "The information vendor Industry Is becoming Big Brother," says privacy advocate Beth Givens. "The information vendor industry is the most alarming threat," says Beth Givens, project director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a non-profit consumer organization. "That industry is really becoming Big Brother." Information vendors aren't so much Big Brother as Big Broker. They dig through public records — birth certificates, court records, driver's licenses and change-of- address information — and sell the data to direct-mail firms, retailers, insurers, lawyers and private investigators. Infor- mation that a few years ago was housed in hundreds of file cabinets in thousands of locations now can be collected, stored and searched in a central databank. "From birth, you're tracked electronically," notes Robert Ellis Smith, editor of Privacy Journal. "There's no escape." | One information vendor offers a service that electronically searches more than 100 million records and returns with a person's Social Security number, the state from which the number was issued and the date it was issued. Many privacy advocates worry about companies giving out Social Security numbers because scam artists have been known to use stolen numbers to set up phony bank and credit card accounts, a crime known as "identity theft." PROBING YOUR IDENTITY Another research firm, CDB Infotek, offers Info:PROBE, which the company claims "can locate persons and businesses anywhere in the USA." Among the dizzying range of data Info:PROBE can get is your credit information, a three- to 12- year history of addresses, your neighbors' phone numbers, magazines you subscribe to, U.S. Census information, professional license and voter registration data, and court records. Also consider: • Medical information gathered by one insurer may be shared with others through a central database containing records on about IS million patients. • The U.S. Postal Service makes change-of-address information available to about two dozen licensees, including most of the large direct-mail companies. • State governments sell driver's license records to independent companies. •Airline passengers must produce identification before boarding, and airlines compile profiles of suspicious travelers. • Employers routinely require a drug test as a condition of employment, and millions of workers are subjected to electronic surveillance on the job. Monitoring may include searches of employee 16 USA WEEKEND • May 16-18,1997

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