They got your number 

How much of your shopping history do you want shared with corporate America?

It's a question you can answer by filling out those "opt out" notices from the financial institutions with whom you do business.

What are those notices? They're a way for consumers to put some limits on the kinds of personal information that credit card companies and their ilk are allowed to sell or share.

If you're like the rest of us, you've probably thrown them out without even knowing it. Over the past few months, the drab little "privacy notice" slips have been stuffed in among the credit card bills and bank statements, along with the usual throwaways offering cheap luggage, credit card insurance and Franklin Mint miniatures of the 1907 Apperson Jackrabbit. The end result? Fewer than 5 percent of customers have opted out, according to the American Banking Association.

That's just how the banking industry wants it. Less compliance means more opportunities to sell your shopping history -- and other private info -- to direct mail companies and telemarketers.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Last year's "banking reform" bill was supposed to allow customers to "opt in," but some heavy lobbying from the banking industry put the onus on consumers to "opt out." (Think of it as a law allowing burglars to come through your window and rifle your drawers unless you've explicitly asked them not to, and you've captured the general thrust.)

Upon receipt, a customer has 30 days to return the notice (or, in some cases, respond via telephone or e-mail), or the company can begin sharing the individual's data. As of July 1, every such institution must provide such notices on an annual basis.

In the meantime, consumer groups offer these tips to privacy-conscious citizens:

When you receive an opt-out notice, send it in immediately.

If an institution has failed to send your notice or you've thrown it away, contact the institution. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (http://www.privacyrightsnow.org)and U.S. Public Interest Research (www.uspirg.org) also offer standard opt-out forms -- in readable print -- that can be printed and mailed in.

Stop credit card companies from sending you pre-approved applications (a common source for credit thieves) by calling 1-888-567-8688.

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