May 2003: PRC's Privacy Update Newsletter

In this issue . . .

[1] “Employment Background Checks”--PRC Fact Sheet # 16 Recently Updated

[2] Why Patients Won't Understand Their HIPAA Medical Privacy Notices

[3] Requests for Medical Privacy Notices under HIPAA

[4] The Confusing Opt-Out Email Makes the Rounds Again

[5] Consumer Questions and Answers: “Dear Privacy Rights Clearinghouse…”

[1] “Employment Background Checks”: PRC Fact Sheet # 16 Recently Updated

We recently updated the PRC’s Fact Sheet #16, “Employment Background Checks: A Jobseeker’s Guide.” We have experienced a dramatic increase in questions about employment background checks. Inquiries are coming from applicants as well as long-time employees, even employers.

This fact sheet provides information about why more employers are performing background checks these days. It clarifies distinctions between background checks that are performed by outside agencies versus those that are conducted in-house. We also highlight some important changes in California law on employment background checks. Fact sheet #16 is available on the PRC website at

[2] Why Patients Won't Understand Their HIPAA Medical Privacy Notices

Our previous newsletter alerted you to the federal medical privacy rule that was implemented April 14, 2003. The PRC’s HIPAA guide is on our web site at

Dr. Mark Hochhauser, Readability Consultant, has analyzed several HIPAA privacy notices for readability. He determined that the notices were written at the 2nd to 4th year college reading levels. He noted that the writing styles “use too many words per sentence, too many complicated sentences and too many complicated and uncommon words.” To read this fascinating report in its entirety, go to

[3] Requests for Medical Privacy Notices under HIPAA

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse would like to receive copies of medical privacy notices that you have obtained since the HIPAA Privacy Rule was implemented on April 14, 2003. If you have a Medical Privacy Notice you can share with us, either an original or a copy, please send it to:

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Attn: Medical Privacy Notice
3100 Fifth Ave., Ste. B
San Diego, CA 92103

[4] The Confusing Opt-Out Email Makes the Rounds Again

Since the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, also known as the Financial Services Modernization Act, was passed in 2001, a confusing email has made the rounds on the Internet about this time of year. The email states, “the four major credit bureaus in the US will be allowed, starting July 1, to release your credit info, mailing addresses, phone numbers..... to anyone who requests it.” The message provides a toll free number to prevent this from happening, 888-567-8688.

If you call the toll free number, you are asked to give your Social Security number (SSN). This alarms many individuals who fear they could become victims of identity theft if they provide their SSN.

The email confuses two separate consumer issues. First, the credit bureaus are not selling your personal information to anyone as of July 1. Second, the phone number listed in the message is for an entirely different, and legitimate, purpose – opting-out of pre-approved offers of credit. To read more about this confusing and erroneous message, visit our web site at

[5] Consumer Questions and Answers: “Dear Privacy Rights Clearinghouse . . .”

“Dear Privacy Rights Clearinghouse,
My ex-wife is running my credit report and my current wife’s credit reports over the Internet. How do I get this to stop, and how do I see who paid for the reports? If you can, please let me know where I need to go, or who I may contact for help.”

“Dear Ex-Husband,
Before someone can access your credit report, it has to be for a
"permissible purpose." There are quite a few of these purposes. They are included in Sec 604 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Here's a link to that section.

Have you requested a copy of your credit report recently? If so, you should be able to see an accounting of who has accessed your credit report. If you have not yet requested your report, you should contact the three credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Here's a link to our Fact Sheet 6 about credit reports. It will give you contact information for all three credit reporting agencies:/fs/fs6-crdt.htm

If you think your credit report was obtained during a court case involving support or custody, for example, you should check with the attorney who is representing you. A court order or subpoena are two of the permissible purposes. I am not sure that this would extend to a copy of your wife's report, however. We are not attorneys, and can't advise on specific situations.

If none of the permissible purposes for the credit report apply to you, I suggest you contact the credit reporting agency that issued the report as well as the Federal Trade Commission. You can file a complaint online with the FTC at

Also, the FCRA gives consumers a right to sue for violations of the law. This is another matter you should take up with an attorney.

We hope this helps. Please let us know if you have any other questions.

PRC Staff”

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