On-Line Privacy: When to Call a Lawyer

Posted about 4 years ago. 1 helpful vote

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First: Ask Yourself "What is the problem ?"

What exactly happened ? Did a merchant give your information to another business or web site without your permission ? Did a site you "signed up" with charge a credit card you were asked to use for a shipping charge, only find hundreds of dollars of merchandise also on your bill ? Some abuses of information you provide on line rise to the level of criminal fraud, and should be reported to law enforcement without delay. The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center : http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

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Second: Where do I get help ?

In most states, your protection against abuses from local, in-state merchants comes from the state's Consumer Protection laws and agencies. General consumer complaints are often handled by the state or city Department of Consumer Affairs. For example, in Virginia, many categories of on-line abuse, including failure of a merchant to properly control your personal information are handled by the consumer section of the Office of the Attorney General. If your complaint is about a telephone company or internet provider, many states have telephone regulatory bodies or Corporations departments, and their contact information is often printed on your monthly phone or cable bill. Some abuses are best addressed with Federal agencies. If your concern is with a health care provider (doctor, hospital, nursing home) the Federal Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights handles "health privacy" under the HIPAA law: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/complaints/index.html

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Third: What if my state doesn't help ?

When the state agencies have not been able to assist you with a Privacy complaint, the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection has national jurisdiction over on-line Privacy abuses. Some on-line problems involving your Personal Information are obvious crimes (see FBI link above). Identity Theft and other on-line abuses may seem only annoying at first, but may result in serious financial damage and complicated account changes for your credit cards and other financial information, and damage both your credit rating and your bank account. Do not delay in notifying all your financial institutions and merchants with whom you have accounts.

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When should I seek the advice of a lawyer ?

Seek professional advice at any time that you feel the problem is beyond your ability to handle and resolve. But in any case, if you believe your personally identifiable information or identity has been compromised by someone who may use it, or use your credit cards or access your bank accounts, go to law enforcement--your local police, state Attorney General's office, or the FBI. If your financial information and account access are compromised, do NOT rely only on the bank or merchant's advice: they have lawyers and will protect themselves first, comply with the law second, and help YOU only if they must. Seek the advice of an attorney on what to do to minimize the impact of these crimes on your financial position, your reputation and your peace of mind.

Additional Resources

The Federal Trade Commission has jurisdiction over many consumer-related Privacy issues and has excellent materials and guidance.. Check out http://www.ftc.gov/privacy/privacyinitiatives/p....

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