Saturday, November 05, 2005

Junk Mail

You probably already know that the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. See my previous posting about Free Credit Reports. It is a good idea to check your credit reports periodically to make sure there are no errors and to check for evidence of identity theft.

Did you know that the FCRA also requires credit reporting agencies to allow you to opt out of firm (prescreened or preapproved) offers of credit and insurance?

Many credit card and insurance companies use prescreening to identify potential customers. Prescreened offers are based on information in your credit report that the offering companies obtain from consumer reporting companies, either by requesting a list of all people in the consumer reporting company's database who meet certain criteria or by providing a list of potential customers to a consumer reporting company and asking the company to identify people on the list who meet the criteria. Although these offers may provide you with information on credit or insurance choices, they also increase your exposure to identity theft.

Under the FCRA, consumer reporting companies are permitted to include your name and address on lists given to creditors and insurers for use in making firm offers of credit or insurance. However, consumer reporting companies that do so must also allow consumers to elect to have their names and addresses excluded from any list provided by the company in connection with a credit or insurance transaction that is not initiated by the consumer. See section 604 of the FCRA, codified at 15 U.S.C. § 1681b.

The official consumer credit reporting industry site for opting out of firm offers of credit or insurance is The toll-free number is 1-888-5OPT-OUT. You can opt out of the prescreening lists for 5 years or permanently. You can also use the site or phone number to opt in if you have previously elected to opt out.

The Federal Trade Commission has a collection of publications for consumers and businesses regarding the FCRA at its website on Consumer Information: Credit Cards and Consumer Loans. There are brochures and other information on credit scoring and building a better credit report, how to dispute credit report errors, and protecting yourself from identity theft and scams. The page on Prescreened Offers of Credit and Insurance also has information on other opt-out programs for reducing telemarketing calls, direct-mail marketing, and unsolicited commercial email.

Thanks to Bonnie Shucha of WisBlawg for this tip.

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