According to some “news” I read online, beginning July 1st, the major credit bureaus in the U.S. will be allowed to release credit information, mailing addresses, phone numbers, etc. to anyone who requests it. The source then listed a phone number (888-567-8688) to call in order to protect yourself.

I was concerned but also a little skeptical. Was this a legitimate story — one you should know about? Or just a come-on? I asked my editor, JS, to follow up.

She reported the following:

The phone number is legitimate, but everything else about this is very misleading. Here’s the story:

* There is no new law that will take effect July 1st. That date relates to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which set July 1, 2001 as the deadline for financial institutions to notify you of their privacy policies — and give you some way to opt out of some of their information-sharing practices. (We told you all about this in the ETR Saturday edition dated January 4, 2003.)

* Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) are allowed to provide financial institutions with lists of consumers who meet certain criteria. These lists are used to send out “pre-screening” (“You have already been approved!”) offers. The phone number above is offered by the credit bureaus to allow you to opt out of such “pre-screening” offers.

* There is no deadline for you to do this. You may contact financial institutions and credit bureaus at any time to opt out of allowing them to share personal information about you.

In case you missed that Saturday edition of ETR, here’s the advice we gave then:

1. Take the time to read the fine print in the privacy notices you receive each year from your bank, credit union, insurance company, stockbroker, mortgage lender, etc. Most privacy notices offer a form or toll-free number that allows you to block the sale of your information to another company.

2. You can get replacements for any you’ve thrown away by contacting the individual institutions. You can also draft your own “opt-out” notice. A sample is available online at

3. The law requires financial institutions to issue privacy notices every year. But watch the mail. You’ll get additional privacy notices when you open a new account or when a company changes its policy.