Credit Card Companies Share Personal Information

Your privacy may not be as protected as you think.

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Dear Alpha Consumer,

As the owner of a Chase credit card, I recently received the Chase Privacy Policy in the mail. I was surprised to read that even if I request that my personal information not be shared, Chase may share it anyway. Why does Chase ask me if I want to share my information if they are going to do so even if I tell them not to? Does asking them not to share my information mean anything? Is there anything I can do stop them from sharing my information?

After getting my hands on a copy of the Chase privacy policy, I asked the company to explain itself. After all, on the face of it, a policy informing you that you basically have no choice about where your information goes is a bit disconcerting. Does signing up for a Chase credit card mean you are doomed to receive dozens of advertisements from other companies that suddenly know your name and address and, possibly, your buying habits?

First, the facts: The Chase policy, which is similar to those of many other credit card companies, states: "You may tell us not to share information about you with non-financial companies outside of our family of companies. Even if you do tell us not to share, we may do so as required or permitted by law.... You may tell us not to share [information] about you within our family of companies.... Even if you do tell us not to share, we may share other types of information within our family."

Chase spokesman Jessica Hougentogler explains that if a customer opts out of having information shared, then it will not be shared with other companies — except with a small number of firms that have a "special relationship" with Chase.

Companies on the receiving end of that special relationship include Chase's partners in marketing credit card products, such as Disney, Southwest Airlines, and Amazon.com. Such information sharing is allowed by federal law, Hougentogler says.

The answer to your question, then, is no, you cannot keep Chase from sharing your information, at least with certain companies. You can choose to give up your credit card, of course, but most major credit cards come with similar privacy policies that allow information sharing between affiliated companies. You can, however, call your company and ask for the highest degree of privacy it allows, which will decrease the number of companies that know your name, your address, your buying patterns, and in some cases, even your Social Security number.

• The personal finance blog The Digerati Life published a holiday edition of personal finance advice, just in time for planning your 2008 budget. Remember to send me your 2008 financial resolutions for a New Year's edition of Alpha Consumer. E-mail me at alphaconsumer@usnews.com.