Starting August 1, 2005, unsolicited offers for credit or insurance that are based on information in your credit report should be easier to spot.
New regulations adopted by the Federal Trade Commission now require notices to prominently display the toll free number (1-888-5OPTOUT or 1-888-567-8688) to opt-out. Now, this number, along with a statement that you can stop the unsolicited offers, must appear - in at least 12-point type - on the first page of the offer. In addition, this "short" notice should refer you to a more detailed notice elsewhere in the offer.
The revised notice is required by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, which amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The new law directed the FTC to write regulations that make prescreen notices simple and easy to understand. Changes were made to address a number of consumer concerns. While the credit and insurance industries are quick to point out the benefits of receiving unsolicited offers, consumers voice a number of objections, including:
- An increase in unwanted mail.
- Confusion about how one's name ended up on a marketing list.
- Access to credit reports not authorized by the consumer.
- Risk of identity theft when unsolicited offers are stolen from the mail.
The new rules do not change the basic process for screening your credit report or for the procedure to opt out. Prescreened (sometimes also called "preapproved" or "prequalified") offers are generated in one of two ways, perfectly legal under the FCRA:
- A creditor or insurer may ask the credit bureau for a list of consumers who meet certain criteria, e.g. a minimum credit score.
- A creditor or insurer may submit a list of names to a credit bureau to screen for consumers who meet certain criteria.
Offers that result from this screening process are supposed to be "firm" offers. However, this does not mean the offer is guaranteed. Any offer you receive should explain this as well as state any additional conditions such as the need to provide collateral.
Here are some basic facts about prescreened offers and opting out:
- Inquires for prescreened offers do not affect your credit score.
- The toll free opt-out number (1-888-5-OPTOUT or 1-888-567-8688) is the number established by the three national credit bureaus - Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. You do not need to opt out separately with all three bureaus.
- You can opt out for five years or permanently.
- You can elect to get offers restored even after you opt out. Opting back in will not affect your credit score.
For more on the FTC's new rules for prescreen notices, see:
For more opt-out choices, see PRC Fact Sheet 1a, Privacy Basics and Opt Out Strategies, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs1a-basics.htm .