Privacy is a red-hot issue for financial service providers. In an age when spam e-mail and identity theft are commonplace, consumers are wary about how banks and insurance companies are going to use their personal information-and in whose hands that information could land.My wife guards her privacy like a hungry Doberman guards his food dish. Our telephone has a caller ID contraption that displays the phone number of an incoming call. But to be on the super-safe side, my wife signed up for a "privacy manager" service that screens all incoming calls. If the system does not recognize the caller's phone number-such as a cell phone number or calls placed from a hotel or a pay phone-the caller is told to state their name and leave a message.
My wife signed up for privacy manager after receiving a telemarketing call on Easter Sunday. Now, all telemarketing calls are automatically sent to privacy manager, and guess what? No one is willing to jump through all the hoops to leave their pitch.
My wife also refuses to give out our home phone number to any company she does business with, including our credit card company. Whenever she orders items from a catalog or over the Internet, she either leaves a fake number or my work number. And, several years ago, we stopped listing our number in the phone book when we learned that anyone can get a map showing driving directions to your home via the Internet.
You may think that my wife is a bit paranoid, and perhaps it's true that she's being overly protective of her privacy. But the fact that the phone company offers privacy manager and that you have the option of not being listed in the phone book (it costs extra, if you can believe it) tells me that many people are concerned about their privacy. If people are that concerned about protecting their phone numbers and screening calls, then how are consumers going to react when financial institutions ask them if they can share more personal information with third parties?
This issue's cover story describes carriers' massive undertaking of complying with Title V of the GLB law, which requires financial service providers to allow their customers to opt out of sharing personal information with third parties for marketing purposes. State Farm alone mailed out 44 million privacy notices. Sure it's a high price to pay, but for many consumers, it's reassuring to know that their personal information won't end up in the hands of a telemarketing company.
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