Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Always beware when
giving info over ’Net

Question: If I request that an online retailer I did business with close my account altogether (i.e., delete all personal information about me), can they refuse and just cancel my credit card information?

One company told me that they need to keep my account for records on what they sold and who they sold merchandise to.

Answer: These days, it's buyer beware of what personal information you give.

After the fact, there may not be any recourse for you unless the company breached an agreement not to give or sell the information to someone else.

Consumers concerned about issues relating to privacy and personal information should request a company's privacy policy before doing any business with them, advised Stephen Levins, acting executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection.

Many companies these days -- those operating on the Internet and those operating via traditional venues, including direct mail and telemarketing -- have privacy policies, he noted.

Sometimes, there are disclosures that personal information will be used only for limited purposes, he said.

But "even in those instances, there have been situations where companies have provided information to other companies in violation of their original representation," Levins said.

"In a situation like that, it could very well be actionable," either by the consumer individually or through law enforcement or consumer protection authorities, he said.

The Council on Better Business Bureaus has a subsidiary called BBBOnLine, which tries "to promote trust and confidence in the Internet."

You can get information on its Web site,

BBBOnLine recommends checking an online company's privacy policy first "to understand what personal information is being requested, why and how it will be used."

It warns that a Web site asking for personal information should be requesting that information only if it is essential to the transaction being conducted.

Also, it notes that not all personal information is equal. Social Security numbers or someone's mother's maiden name, for example, can be used to confirm an identity, while a simple name and address can often be found in the phone book.

You're also advised never to give out your Internet password to anyone and avoid using obvious passwords, such as birth dates, children's names or phone numbers.

Locally, you can call the BBB of Hawaii at 536-6956 to get tips about cyber-shopping. Dial that number, hit 1, then 2, and 2 again, then the "tel-tip" number 017 for Shopping Safely from Home, 055 for Protecting Your Financial Privacy in Cyberspace or 065 for Cyberspace Shopping.

You can request the information be faxed or mailed to you.


If Kapolei is the second city, why is its main road only two lanes? Traffic after work is horrendous. The traffic light turns green five times before we can get past it. They should synchronize the lights! -- No Name


To Warner, a gas attendant at Waipio Costco. He cooled down my car when my water pump broke and also gave me advice on how to make it home without stalling.

Mahalo also to the kind lady who alerted Warner to the steam coming from my car. It's great to know there are such great people around. -- Linda M.

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