As 31 December 2014 gives way into 1 January 2015

As 2014 slowly fades into the sunset and 2015 rises at dawn, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! In Spanish, Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo! In Slovenian, Vesel božič i Srečno novo leto! And in German, Frohe Weihnachten und Glückliches neues Jahr!

I hope everyone had a happy and safe Christmas and New Year.  Whether you went to First Night in downtown St. Petersburg and watched the fireworks as midnight rolled around or stayed at home and watched the ball drop in Times Square in New York City at the stroke of midnight, we will say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015.


Getting to some EdwardRingwald.com website notes, I finally got the Christmas lights page up for 2014 after all the website coding and testing prior to putting the pages and pictures live.  Now that I am using CoffeeCup HTML Editor as my web design software, it takes a lot of getting used to:  Making sure the HTML is correct to the letter and making sure all the references are in their right places.  But I think CoffeeCup HTML Editor is much more robust and it gives you more control over what you want to show out there on the web.

The good news?  I am going to leave the Christmas 2014 page up for a good part of 2015 so that everyone can come by and check it out.  In 2014 I feature not only two light displays in St. Petersburg but I also feature Christmas themed train excursions at four different railroad museums in two states!

Now on to 2015.

Today as I am writing this entry I came across an ABC Action News Taking Action For You article by Jackie Callaway which should have you concerned, especially in this day and age of data breaches involving Target and The Home Depot:  Retailers asking for and scanning your ID when you have to return an item.  That in itself is very scary and you should be concerned if you care about your privacy, especially in a retail environment.

As I wrote in a blog entry back in December 2011 here are some important pointers on what you need to do when it comes to retail returns:

1.   Save your receipts!  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.  Check your store’s return policy; it can be found online on the retailer’s web site or posted in store at the customer service desk.  In addition, be aware of any restocking fees that may be imposed.

2.  If a retailer demands ID and scans the ID somewhere, this is a time when red flags should go up.  More and more retailers are demanding ID as a part of the return process in order to deter fraudulent returns; if you hand the store clerk your ID you are unwittingly handing over your personal information to a third party called The Retail Equation out of Irvine, CA.  This should definitely have you concerned.

As we hear of more and more data breach incidents with retailers – despite retailer policies on protecting the privacy of its customers – any retailer requiring and capturing ID as part of the returns process amounts to nothing more than a retailer dabbling into your personal affairs as well as a recipe for identity theft.

That being said, what should you do if a retailer demands ID from you as part of the returns process and the retailer captures your ID data?

The answer is very simple:  If you have an alternate form of ID other than a driver’s license, use it.  If you have an United States Passport or Passport Card, USE IT.  NEVER HAND OVER YOUR DRIVER LICENSE – ESPECIALLY A FLORIDA DRIVER LICENSE – TO A RETAILER UNLESS IT IS THE ONLY ID YOU HAVE!

For starters, a Florida Driver License is the worst identity document in the nation to have in your possession other than for operating a motor vehicle, which is the law.  Thanks to the Federal REAL ID law enacted in 2010, and the relevant Florida Statutes that were changed in order to comply with REAL ID, your Florida Driver License has on it your physical street address.  That in itself is a goldmine for stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators who somehow can get their hands on your driver license data.  In addition, a retailer has no business finding out where you live.

Before REAL ID, you could have a post office box mailing address on your driver license in order to minimize the risk of your personal information being compromised.  Today, only law enforcement officers are allowed to substitute their post office box mailing addresses in place of a physical street address on a driver license, if any.  Did Congress have any compassion for victims of stalking or domestic violence when REAL ID was passed?

Besides, despite federal laws to the contrary the State of Florida has a habit of selling your name and address information on your driver’s license to third parties.  Which leads me to wonder:  If the State of Florida is selling your personal information to third parties, I imagine retailers with ID required and captured policies – such as Best Buy, for instance – are doing the same thing.

And another thing to ponder is of course the data breach incidents that have happened with Target and The Home Depot.  All it takes is a skilled hacker to harvest your personal information.  One day we will go online or turn on the TV and the news will have a breaking news alert:  Major data breach incident involving The Retail Equation.

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!

Again, if you got a passport or passport card, use it as ID.  I know, passport books are expensive but you can get a passport card from the United States State Department for $30.  Besides, a passport card is valid for ten years as opposed to a Florida Driver License which is only valid for eight years depending on your driving record.  Not only you will have an alternative form of ID which meets federal REAL ID requirements for boarding aircraft when flying domestically and entering federal facilities, you can use it for trips to Canada and Mexico when you cross the border by land.  The only time you would have to invest in a passport book is if you are traveling by air internationally including Canada and Mexico.

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 as mentioned earlier.

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.

Once again: 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 the retailer data breach incidents:

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, as is the case with The Retail Equation.

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, Toys R Us or any other retailer known to ask for and capture IDs from customers as well as The Retail Equation, my residential street address – in other words, where I live – is none of your business

Again, as the final seconds of 2014 tick away into the first seconds of 2015, I would like to say Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2015!
 

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).

Holiday Shopping and ID

The holiday season is underway, and by now you are out there going after all those holiday specials! But before you head out the door, here are some important shopping tips when you pay for your purchases by credit or debit card:

1. Make sure that all your credit and debit cards are signed on the back. Don’t write “SEE ID” on the back – that statement is not valid as a signature. Besides, merchants have to comply with the policies set by the credit card issuers, and among the policies is that credit card users must sign the back panel of the card prior to use.

2. Keep – in a separate place such as a password protected Word document or Excel spreadsheet – a list of the credit and debit card numbers and the associated toll free telephone number to that card’s particular issuer in case the card is lost, stolen, or the number is compromised. Don’t keep a printed copy with your cards!

3. Provided you have signed your card on the back as required, merchants have NO right to demand your ID. Why?

First and foremost, it is against policies set by the credit card issuers, namely MasterCard and Visa. However, there is one exception: A merchant can require ID if the card is not signed on the back as you are supposed to.

Second, a merchant’s wanting to know where you live is absolutely none of their business. Merchants such as Wal-Mart (in Florida, we should call them trespass and ban for life happy Wal-Mart) and CompUSA are very notorious for this.

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 but for stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators who happen to come across your license.

If you are confronted by a store clerk at the register demanding your ID, you are well within your rights to say no. If the store clerk gets belligerent with you, politely and professionally ask to speak with the store manager. Nine times out of ten a store manager will say that checking ID is their policy to prevent identify theft, but that alone is a false statement. Besides, store clerks themselves have been involved in identity theft cases as the perpetrators!

Protecting yourself against identity theft is a straightforward process on your part. We know how to keep our credit/debit cards and Social Security numbers out of the hands of unknown persons, and to check our credit reports once a year.

4. Always check your credit and bank account statements periodically. Notify your bank, credit union or credit card issuer of any inaccuracies.

While we are on the subject of ID’s, the best American identity document you want to carry around is the Passport Card. Not only it fits in your wallet unlike the traditional passport book, you can use it to cross the Canadian/Mexican border for short trips to Canada or Mexico across our land borders as well as domestically here in the USA to board your flight and gain admittance to federal facilities as the passport card is a REAL ID compliant document. (Remember, a passport card cannot be used to enter the United States by air, even if you are coming from Canada or Mexico – this is where the traditional passport book comes in).

And the good thing about a passport card is that it does not reveal where you live, such as your physical street address (unlike a Florida Driver’s License or a Florida ID card). The passport card contains the benchmarks required by the federal REAL ID law yet providing a degree of privacy for the cardholder. Better yet, a passport card costs $30 and it’s valid for ten years, compared to a State of Florida ID card which costs $25 but is only valid for eight years. Besides, if you have a Florida ID card and you move to another state, you have to end up getting a new state ID card in your new state of residence which means more fees and more hassle at the state DMV, but if you have a passport card it is a federal document good anywhere in the USA.

Reminder: If you have a driver’s license and you move, be sure to obtain a driver’s license in your new state of residence. It is the law in all 50 states! Active duty military pursuant to federal law are exempt, just make sure you have your military ID with you in case you are questioned by a law enforcement officer regarding your out of state driver’s license.

The U.S. State Department has more details on the passport card as well as how to apply and application forms. Believe me, it’s worth the $30!

Remember, the only time you need to carry your Florida Driver’s License (or the driver’s license from your home state) and to produce it is this:

1. While you are operating a motor vehicle
2. In case of a traffic stop
3. In case of a motor vehicle accident
Besides, you also need your registration and proof of insurance – it’s the law
4. When you rent a car – it is illegal for any rental car company (such as Alamo) to rent to anyone who does not have a valid driver’s license

To law enforcement or a rental car company, a driver’s license is one thing. But to store clerks such as those at Wal-Mart, CompUSA or any other merchant who has strict ID policies when it comes to using your credit or debit card, my driver’s license and where I live is none of your business!

If you are confronted by a belligerent store clerk who rudely or surly demands your ID, and the store manager on duty does not wish to help you, there are at least two things you can do:

1. If you have a passport card, use it as ID. This takes care of 99% of all ID encounters when retail stores are involved.

2. Leave the items on the counter and patronize a different merchant.

And I did not forget Item Number 3: Go to RipOffReport.com and share your experience with that particular store. Also go to ConsumerAffairs.com and share your experience wth that particular store as well. These sites are also great to share your experiences if you have run into rude, belligerent or surly store clerks and you get no satisfaction from the store manager in charge.

If you have an unfavorable experience with a belligerent or surly store clerk, especially if ID is demanded of you when you pay for your items at the register, please feel free to share your experiences here by posting a reply. All I ask is that the replies be kept clean and no personally identifying information; your reply will not show up until I have moderated it.

Tougher Standards for Florida IDs Coming on 1 January 2010

Link to article over at Bay News 9: Tougher standards for IDs go into effect Jan. 1.

We have heard about REAL ID for a few years and the Federal government’s role in implementing REAL ID. It is coming to Florida come 1 January 2010 and it’s going to mean different, if not difficult, ways in obtaining or renewing your Florida Drivers License. The new rules are supposed to enhance security of identity documents such as drivers licenses.

Now here’s the lowdown on what to expect on 1 January 2010 when you go to obtain or renew your Florida drivers license. Here’s what you are going to have to bring with you when you go to the drivers license office to obtain or renew your license:

1. Primary identification: A certified US birth certificate, a US Passport or a US Passport Card. For US citizens born outside the United States you will need the Consular Report of Birth Abroad (issued by the US Department of State) and it has to be a certified copy; however, if you have a US Passport that’s better as it is absolute proof of United States citizenship. (After all, passports are easier to replace than birth certificates if they get lost for some reason).

2. Social Security Number: You will want to bring your original Social Security card; that’s the best.

3. Two proofs of Florida residential address: The State of Florida wants proof that you actually live here in the Sunshine State to get or renew a Florida drivers license. Here is a partial list of the documents you will need to prove Florida residency according to the folks over at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles at their speciality site, GatherGoGet.com:

Residential deed or monthly mortgage statement
Residential lease
Florida Voter ID card (this is your Voter Information card)
Florida vehicle registration or title
A utility connection order (60 days old or less)
Homeowners, condo unit owners or renters insurance policy or bill
A utility bill 60 days old or less

Now what if you are living with someone else such as your parents? They will have to accompany you to the drivers license office, provide a statement and provide proof of residence address as shown above. If you are living in a transitional shelter a letter from the shelter verifying that you live there is required.

OK. Now that you have your required documents, you can proceed to the nearest Florida drivers license office and obtain or renew your drivers license. When you receive your drivers license, it will have, among other things as required by the federal REAL ID law, your residential street address printed on your license.

What? Invasion of privacy? What’s going on here?

Here’s a comment that I posted over at Bay News 9’s Viewer Center on this article:

To me, Florida’s new drivers license requirements in the name of REAL ID is very dangerous. Why? There are a lot of Floridians like myself who have a residential street address but have all mail sent to a post office box for security reasons. Florida’s new requirement effective 1 January 2010 will require that the residential street address be listed on the drivers license.

What makes this so dangerous is that if let’s say someone obtains a domestic violence restraining order and the person who obtained the restraining order somehow loses his or her drivers license with the residential street address on it. Bingo! The domestic violence perpetrator who is not supposed to even come within 500 feet of the street address now knows where you live! Furthermore, Florida’s residential street address requirement for drivers licenses will also make it very easy for stalkers to find you – if somehow you lose your drivers license and the stalker finds it then – voila – it’s a gold mine!

And I agree with everyone else: Our Florida drivers licenses are slowly being turned into national identity cards thanks to REAL ID; a drivers license is simply that – a license by the State of Florida to operate a motor vehicle and nothing more. After all, driving is a privilege and not a right. (Emphasis mine)

A residential street address on a voter ID card is fine, as it proves where you live and what polling place you have to go to. On a drivers license, it is a different matter as it is used as a primary identification card; I do have a residential street address but all my mail goes to a post office box for security reasons. Presenting it to a law enforcement officer (especially if you get pulled over) is very important; you’re supposed to carry your drivers license with you when you are operating your motor vehicle in the very first place. On the other hand, presenting a drivers license with where you physically live to a total stranger for identification opens up Pandora’s Box to unwanted invasion of your personal privacy; that’s why so many Floridians such as me have a post office box for privacy and security reasons.

Moreover, despite the security precautions taken by Tallahassee to safeguard the data on Florida’s drivers licenses, leaks of personal data have occurred. Moreover, the State of Florida has a habit of selling your name and residential street address information that is on your drivers license to third parties despite a Federal law that provides for confidentiality of driver license information. Here is a link to a post I found on the FlyerTalk.com forum which addresses this subject very well.

Until recently, you could get a Florida drivers license, prove your residential street address, and have your license with your mailing address on it. That has changed thanks to REAL ID. The only exception to this new rule is only law enforcement officers.

In a nutshell, I agree with making identity documents such as a drivers license more secure but I do not believe in trading privacy for security. This is something our federal and Florida lawmakers need to address.

Now for one more thing, if I may have your attention for just a moment.

At the end of my comment I made to Bay News 9, I mentioned that driving is a privilege, not a right. That is true: The State of Florida gave you the privilege to drive when you apply or renew your drivers license, and the State of Florida can take away that privilege if you accumulate too many points on your record or are convicted of something more serious such as DUI.

I was reading the comments that followed mine on the tougher standards for Florida IDs and I found a comment made by someone under the pseudonym Mighty Mouse. Please let me quote part of the comment that Mighty Mouse made about me:

…I’ve been making that very same point here for over 7 years now every time some “DUMBO” like Edward Reinwald comes here and post’s “Driving is a privilege, not a right”…

Luckily, I contacted Bay News 9 about this and found out that Mighty Mouse’s offensive comments were removed. As you will see, Mighty Mouse misspelled my name and then went ahead and called me something that was very offensive and demeaning. While constructive criticism is welcomed the use of language that is offensive and demeaning is not.

Bay News 9 allows anyone to post a comment to any of their stories on their web site without any form of user registration; however, this is not the case here at the Edward Ringwald Blog or the Interstate 275 Florida Blog. In order to post a comment to any entry I have on either blog there is a two step process; registration with a Google account for first timers and when you actually post a comment it is sent to me for moderation prior to allowing your comment to be seen. This is why I ask when you make a comment to please keep it clean and family friendly.

And as for Mighty Mouse’s surly comment about me, I feel that he thinks driving is a right, not a privilege. This is untrue. The Florida drivers license you hold in your wallet is a privilege granted to you by the State of Florida, of which it can be taken away. This is emphasized in the Florida Driver’s Handbook and again when you go into the drivers license office to apply for or renew your license.