Fleet Mortgage Corp. Accused of Sharing Customer Data With Telemarketers

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The Minnesota attorney general's office filed a lawsuit Dec. 28 against Fleet Mortgage Corp., claiming that the company violated its own privacy policy by sharing the personal data of its customers with telemarketers.

Attorney General Mike Hatch also accused the investment and financial firm of cooperating with other companies in deceptive telemarketing campaigns. The suit was filed in Minnesota district court in Hennepin County. Hatch said telemarketers that used Fleet's customer information have targeted hundreds of Minnesota residents.

Hatch alleged that the telemarketers offered Fleet customers free trial memberships in organizations that provide discounts on services such as car maintenance, attorney fees and credit card protection, but then billed consumers if they failed to opt out of the organizations within 30 days.

A spokeswoman for Fleet Mortgage Corp., Columbia, SC, said the firm would defend itself against the allegations. She said the suit took the company by surprise because Hatch put out a press release regarding the accusations prior to delivering a copy of the suit to the firm.

According to the lawsuit, Fleet gave telemarketers its customers' contact information and loan account numbers along with data about mortgage loan accounts and how the accounts were used. Hatch did not identify the telemarketing companies involved.

In return for customer information, Fleet retained a portion of the profits made by the telemarketers and, in some cases, charged a fee for the data, according to the suit. Hatch said Fleet Mortgage broke away from its own privacy standards, which state that the company shares "the minimum amount of information necessary for that company to offer its product or service."

However, according to Fleet's privacy policy, posted on its Web site at www.fleet.com, the company "may share information with such companies if they provide a product or service that may benefit our customers." Fleet's spokeswoman called the lawsuit "inflammatory" and said it contains inaccurate information.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction ordering Fleet to stop sharing customer information with telemarketers as well as unspecified restitution for consumers. Fleet Mortgage is a subsidiary of FleetBoston Financial Corp., Boston.

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