Let’s face it: There’s a lot of talk about privacy. This is in part thanks to things like hacking, which can result in credit card information being stolen, identity theft from people snatching mail from your mailbox and even concerns over government agencies reading our emails and listening to our phone calls. It feels like we are searching for not only internet safety but also privacy in our daily lives.
Is There a Human Right to Privacy?
You’ll be happy to know that you do still have privacy rights, despite what it may feel like. And there are even ways to help protect your privacy even further than you may already be doing. In fact, there are many federal regulations that give you a say about what arrives in your mailbox and inbox, who calls your home phone and what they can say to you. There are also privacy protections available to you based on the laws in which state you live.
Is the Right to Privacy Constitutional?
It sure is. According to the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, American citizens have the right to “be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Safeguarding Your Privacy
There is a lot of personal information out there that can make you vulnerable. But there are some steps you can take to help secure your privacy.
1. Stop Calls on Your Home Phone
You finally have time to sit down and talk with your family about your day when the phone rings — It’s fine when it’s grandma calling to talk, but it’s the worst when it’s a telemarketer interrupting. And what about when those callers who are actually scammers trying to get you to share personal information? Say goodbye to telemarketers and get your name off telemarketing lists by registering your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry. You can register by visiting www.donotcall.gov or calling 1-888-382-1222.
2. Privacy Protection With Debt Collectors
Speaking of getting calls that interrupt your personal time, it’s good to know that you are entitled to certain privacy rights when working with a debt collection agency. Thanks to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a debt collector is not allowed to:
- Contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree to it.
- Contact you at work once they’re told you’re not allowed to receive calls there.
- Speak about your debt with anyone but you or your attorney. However, a debt collector may contact other people you know, but only to find out your address, phone number and place of employment.
Under the FDCPA, you can request that a debt collector stop calling you and cease contact with you altogether by sending them a letter requesting them to do so. Keep in mind, however, that this does not absolve you from your debts. And there are certain situations where they may contact you again after you’ve sent the request letter, like to inform you the case is going to court.
3. Be Proactive About Internet Privacy
4. Review Your Credit
It’s amazing how often your credit scores are factored into big moments in your life — everything from bankers looking at them as you search for a mortgage to buy a house to employers looking at a version of your credit reports as part of the application process.
But do you know what they’re seeing? If you haven’t checked your credit reports in a while, you may want to do so and then consider making it a habit. Not only do you have a right to view copies of your reports from the three major credit bureaus — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian — for free once every 12 months, but doing so won’t harm your credit. You’ll want to look at reports from each of these places, as they may not all carry the same information.
If you see any inaccuracies, you have a right to dispute the information with the creditor and the credit reporting agencies. Accuracies can have a negative impact on your credit, so it’s important to check your credit regularly for errors, and to resolve any problems as soon as possible.
As we mentioned, it’s a good idea to make reviewing your credit something you do on a regular basis. Doing so can also alert you to any problems, like identity theft (sudden changes in your scores can be a sign of this). On Credit.com, we can provide you with two of your credit scores for free.
5. Opt Out of Credit & Insurance Mailings
Tired of direct mail solicitations for new credit cards or insurance policies filling up your mailbox? You have the right to opt out and have a more serene and solicitation-free mailbox (and, in turn, help keep these mailers and the data on them out of the wrong hands). Not sure if you want to commit to never seeing these offers again? You have two options: You can opt-out permanently from these offers or opt out for a five-year period instead. (You can check out this guide for more on how to opt out of receiving prescreened credit and insurance offers.)
6. Opt Out of Mailings From National Companies
Want to reduce the junk mail in your mailbox even more? You can visit the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) website — DMA.choice.org — and opt out of mailings from many national companies for five years. You can opt out from mailings from a specific company or by categories such as credit offers, catalogs, magazine offers, as well as other mailings including donation requests, bank offers and retail promotions.
7. Clean Out Your Inbox
The way technology is going now, a lot of the mailers we just talked about have gone digital. So, if you’re seeing a lot of junk hitting your inbox, whether it’s offers from businesses trying to sell you something or possible scams, you can do something to help keep your inbox dialed in. Limit the number of unsolicited emails you receive with the Direct Marketing Association’s email preference service. Registration is free and your email will be removed from national lists for six years.
This article has been updated. It was originally published on March 17, 2015.
Lucy Lazarony also contributed to this article.