Does this e-mail, on the subject "personal information goes public," look familiar?
"Starting July 1st, 2003, the four major credit bureaus in the U.S. (Equifax, etc.) will be allowed to release credit info, mailing addresses, phone numbers, etc., to ANYONE who requests it. If you do not want to be included in this release of your personal information, you can call 1-888-567-8688 . . ."
This e-mail and its variants have been circulating since at least the summer of 2001, the year we first addressed it in this column. It seems that some clever soul just changes the date and out it goes again each year, flooding in-boxes with misinformation and half-truths. The Federal Trade Commission has an alert on this e-mail on its home page at www.ftc.gov.
For those plugged into the cyberworld who have managed to escape this e-mail, or for those who have forgotten it, here's the real story:
Credit bureaus have always been allowed to release your credit information to people who have a legitimate business need for it, such as when you apply for credit, insurance, employment or to rent an apartment.
Lenders and insurers are allowed to use information from the files of credit reporting agencies to select people, for instance those who make their payments on time, to whom to send unsolicited offers. The toll-free number, 1-888-567-8688, is the "opt-out" line for the major credit bureaus for these "prescreened" offers. If you want to stop banks, credit card issuers, insurers, mortgage companies, brokers and other financial institutions from selling your personal information to telemarketers, salespeople and other companies seeking your business, you have to contact them directly.
The July 1 date mentioned in the e-mail was the deadline set by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act for financial institutions to inform you of their privacy policies and how to opt out of some of their information-sharing practices. The year, however, was 2001.
Failing to make way with Midway
I purchased airline tickets from Midway Airlines on June 14, 2001. As you may recall, Midway went out of business just days after 9/11 and before my flight of Sept. 20, 2001. Repeated attempts to contact Midway requesting a refund resulted in nothing more than a maze of electronic voices offering no help whatsoever. Many weeks later, Midway was back in business. After many other frustrating phone calls seeking some solution, I finally was informed electronically of an address to write to for a refund. Again, after many repeated mailings to the Midway "customer something department," I have not had even one response. Can you please help me? Carole Hogle
Response: Harper Cole Jr., manager of refund accounting for Midway Airlines in Morrisville, N.J., said that you purchased two tickets from the airline on June 12, 2001, that were later exchanged for other tickets for travel departing Tampa on Sept. 20, 2001. Midway suspended operations Sept. 11, 2001, resumed service Dec. 19, 2001, and suspended operations again July 17, 2002.
With regard to your statement that none of the repeated "electronic voices" offered any help, Cole said that the airline's toll-free 800-number provided customers with five options: 1) an opportunity to talk directly with service representatives; 2) the ability to leave messages with pertinent information on refund requests; 3) a fax number directly to the refunds department; 4) the mailing address for postal delivery; and 5) the Internet address for e-mail requests. The Web site provided the same information.
Cole also addressed your statement that after Midway resumed operations you were finally informed electronically of an address to write to for a refund and that after repeated mailings you never received a response. He said that the airline acknowledges that early in the shutdown period, phone lines were extremely busy. However, thousands of customers used the "electronic voices" messages to identify a way to get their requests to the refunds department.
He said that the airline was overwhelmed by the number of customers who communicated their request first by e-mail, then by fax, next by U.S. mail and then called two days after the e-mail to check on the status of the refund. He said that however busy the airline may have been, he seriously questions your statement that repeated phone calls and mailings were not responded to. He can understand isolated instances of telephone calls and mail getting lost, he said, but he cannot accept that the airline had "repeated failure" over several months with the same person using two methods of communication.
The tickets in question are now more than 2 years old, Cole said. Midway's policy has always been to follow the industry standard of recognizing the one-year validity period of airline tickets. He said that he believes you had adequate time to submit a refund request and strongly disagrees that Midway failed to receive even one of so many requests from the same customer. As a result, Midway Airlines cannot honor your refund request.
Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.
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