Husband's name appears on wife's credit line statement

PIPEDA Case Summary #2003-156

[Principle 4.5 of Schedule 1]

Complaint

An individual complained when his spouse's line of credit statement was addressed to both him and his wife despite the fact that she had opened the account in her name only.

Summary of Investigation

When the complainant received the statement co-addressed to him, he assumed that the application for the line of credit had been issued in his name, without his consent. He complained to the bank, demanding that this error be corrected and asking for compensation. The bank responded, indicating that steps had been taken to ensure that the complainant did not suffer any adverse consequences as a result of the error and that no entry had appeared on the complainant's credit bureau file.

The bank initially considered this to be a clerical error, whereby the complainant's name was inadvertently copied onto his spouse's statement. Such an error, however, suggested that the complainant and his wife had a joint account, or some joint service, with the bank, which was not in fact the case.

The bank then suggested that his name had been added in error to a mailing list. Mailing lists are kept separate from files containing a customer's account information and are created when a customer's mailing address is different from his or her permanent address. The bank suggested that since the spouse had provided the complainant's name as a reference and his name was therefore on the spouse's file, the complainant's name might have been inadvertently added to the mailing list for the spouse's account. Such a theory would have explained why his name did not appear anywhere else in connection with the spouse's account. However, this could not be verified since the mailing list corresponding to the period when the account was opened was no longer available at the time of the investigation. The bank assured the Commissioner that this was a one-time, human error.

Commissioner's Findings

Issued April 16, 2003

Jurisdiction: As of January 1, 2001, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (the Act) applies to any federal work, undertaking, or business. The Commissioner had jurisdiction in this case because a bank is a federal work, undertaking, or business as defined in the Act.

Application: Principle 4.5 stipulates that personal information shall not be used or disclosed for purposes other than those for which it was collected.

Although the bank was unable to provide any conclusive explanation as to why the spouse's statement was co-addressed to the complainant, the Commissioner did not accept that it was a simple clerical error. Rather, he was of the view that the complainant's name had been mistakenly written beside that of his spouse even though she had asked that the account be opened in her name only.

The Commissioner determined that the bank used the complainant's personal information for purposes other than those for which it was collected and was therefore in contravention of Principle 4.5. He was, however, pleased that the bank had corrected the error and had ensured that there were no further consequences for the complainant.

The Commissioner concluded that the complaint was well-founded.

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