26 December 2011

Those After Christmas Returns and ID

Christmas 2011 has come and gone, and I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! Hopefully you got what you wanted and Santa was good to you.

Now comes the After Christmas stuff: The sales and the returns. Many of you may have to return something for a particular reason. So, if you plan on returning an item to exchange it for something else or a refund, you will want to keep some important pointers in mind:

1. Check your store's return and refund policy carefully. Note any fees you may be charged such as a restocking fee, especially for computer and electronics equipment. You can find out an individual store's policy just by going to their web site and clicking on the customer service link.

2. Bring your original sales receipt with you. This will eliminate plenty of inconvenience when you go to exchange or return an item. If you do not have your original receipt with you, more than likely you will be offered store credit so that you can purchase another item. Again, check your store's return policy.

Adhering to store policy and bringing your original receipt should make your return or exchange a breeze. However, there is an alarming trend with retailers when it comes to exchanges and refunds, and that is requiring ID and at the same time capturing the information on your ID! Just recently Best Buy has enacted a policy that requires ID from you when you return an item to them; as part of their return policy the information on your ID will be captured and entered into a secure database for the purpose of tracking returns.

What? Retailers such as Best Buy dabbling into your personal affairs by requiring and capturing ID when you return something? Best Buy, for instance, claims that their policy is to track customer returns as well as to cut down on return fraud; customer information captured is kept in a secure database and the information contained therein is not sold to third parties.

To me, Best Buy's return policy (as well as any other retailer requiring and capturing ID) is a recipe for identity theft. Any retailer can institute a legitimate return policy by having the customer fill out a form (which is generated by the register) with the customer's name and address, and the store clerk enters this information into the register. As to Best Buy's claim that the information captured from customer IDs is kept securely, the information will eventually end up being sold to third parties.

After all, despite federal laws prohibiting this practice the State of Florida has a habit of selling your name and address information on your driver's license to third parties. If the State of Florida sells your name and address information on your driver's license then I imagine what Best Buy is doing to your information when you return something to them for an exchange or refund.

Besides, as I mentioned in a previous blog entry a Florida Driver's License is the worst identity document to have in your possession other than the fact that you need it for driving a motor vehicle. You need it in case a law enforcement officer pulls you over or if you are in an accident. A Florida Driver's License contains - as required by the federal REAL ID law concerning standards for state drivers licenses - your name and your physical street address; in other words, where you live. Besides, a physical street address is a goldmine, not only for nosy and dabbling store clerks when it comes to returns but for stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators who happen to come across your license.

Any retailer that requires ID when you return an item will also try to claim that it is also their policy to help deter identity theft. Any retailer claiming the purpose of requiring ID to help deter identity theft is a false statement. Besides, store clerks have been involved in identity theft cases as the perpetrators!

So, what can you do to prevent your personal information from being misused at the hands of retailers such as Best Buy?

If you happen to have a passport or a passport card, use it as ID. Passports and passport cards do not have your physical street address on them, unlike a driver's license.

If you do not have either a passport or passport card, I would strongly recommend getting a passport card. It is a wallet size card and, being a federal identity document, meets REAL ID benchmarks. Not only you can use it when you check in for a domestic airline flight or to enter a federal facility, you can show your passport card as ID if in the event a retailer asks you. Passport cards cost $30 and are good for ten (10) years.

If you have a post office box as a mailing address, use it to your benefit. If in the event a retailer requires a street address, give your work street address - not the street address where you live. Again, residential street addresses are a goldmine not only for dabbling store clerks but for stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators too.

Be sure to hang on to your driver's license, but put that away in a safe place in your wallet or purse. The only time you need to produce your driver's license is in these situations:

1. While you are operating a motor vehicle.
2. In the event of a traffic stop.
3. In the event of a motor vehicle accident.
Remember, you must carry your registration and proof of motor vehicle insurance as well - it's the law!
4. When you rent a car - after all, it is illegal for any rental car company such as Alamo or Dollar to rent to anyone without a valid driver's license.

Remember: If you are asked for ID by a retail store clerk, pull out your passport or passport card if you got one. This solves 99% of all ID required issues when it comes to retailers.

Now here's my take on retailers requiring ID when you return an item for exchange or refund, especially in light of Best Buy's new ID required for returns policy:

1. Retailers have a right to control return fraud. Asking the customer for his name and address is the first step and using the information only for the purpose of processing the return and destroying the information collected from the customer after a period of time - such as 60 days - ensures privacy for the customer.

2. If a retailer wants to require ID for a return, that's their business. At least the information from the ID should not be captured and held in a computer database subject to unauthorized access.

3. To law enforcement or to a rental car company, a driver's license is one thing. However, to retailers such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart, CompUSA or any other retailer known to ask for IDs from customers, my residential street address - in other words, where I live - is none of your business.

If you have had a horrific experience at a retailer when you went to return an item for exchange or refund, I would like to hear from you. Simply post a comment with your experience (please, no personal identifying information).

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