Patriot Act: Investors give up a little privacy when they join a mutual fund

Q: I recently printed out the prospectus/application from Dodge & Cox. It says the company must have my street address to comply with the USA Patriot Act and that someone will verify that address. As someone who has used a post office box for years, I'm unhappy with this. I don't see how this makes my country safer since I could move two weeks after I give them my address. Do you have any information regarding this matter? I'd like a more concrete answer than, "a third party will verify your address" from a customer service representative I contacted.
K.G., Saratoga, Calif.

A: USA Patriot Act regulations that took effect this fall require various financial service providers - mutual funds included - to beef up their knowledge of people with whom they're doing business. Since it's not in the identity business, Dodge & Cox hired Background Bureau Inc., a suburban Cincinnati company that runs background checks on new employees and the like. Background Bureau CEO Sam Paris says that while personal freedom seems to him to be a vanishing commodity, "it's the system we live in" and the law requires that these checks be made.

Mr. Paris says his company uses information from your application to verify against government records that you are not a suspected terrorist. Once that is established, he says, no one goes on to build any sort of dossier.

Kathy Miller, a customer service representative for Dodge & Cox, says the fund company will happily send any statements to your post office box. It just needs to know your street address so Background Bureau can do its job.

As to whether a mutual fund knowing your address makes our streets safer, that's a matter for you and Congress. Federal lawmakers came up with the law. And yes, you certainly could move in two weeks, even two hours, after revealing your street address.

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