Credit card myth: Showing ID at the register

While on vacation, you make a quick grocery store run for some snacks. While checking out, the clerk asks you for their store savings card, and you tell them, “I don’t have one, we don’t usually shop here.” You are then asked to provide your address, phone number, email, and shopping preferences so you can save 10% on on your purchase. After refusing to fill out their forms (which will subject you to years of junk mail and unsolicited phone calls) they ask to see your ID to verify your credit card. Realizing that your ID contains the personal information you just refused to give them, you are hesitant to hand it over. Can you use your credit card without showing an ID?

Protecting personal information is becoming increasingly important as identity theft runs rampant, and spam seeks to infiltrate every aspect of our lives. On one hand, if someone steals your wallet it would be nice if a store clerk asked them for an ID before charging a $2,000 flat screen TV onto your credit card.  On the other hand, does every store you purchase a pack of gum from really need to know your address, eye color, height, and birth date? Few people enjoy being profiled and targeted by advertising agencies, or by the local teenager working behind the cash register.

In case you didn’t know,most major credit card companies do not require an ID to make a purchase (unless you are buying a product such as alcohol which requires age verification). Credit card companies, not merchants, determine the rules for using their cards. Individual credit card company policies can be found on-line in their user manuals. As an example, the MasterCard manual, states: “A Merchant must not refuse to complete a Transaction solely because a Cardholder … refuses to provide additional identification information.” Similarly, Visa Operating Regulations (Section 5.2.J.1.b) states: “…. a Merchant must not require a Cardholder, to provide any supplementary Cardholder information as a condition for honoring Visa Card or Visa Electron Card, unless it is required, or permitted, elsewhere in these Operating Regulations. Such supplementary Cardholder information includes, but is not limited to: social security number (or any part thereof), fingerprint, home or business address or telephone number, driver’s license number, photocopy of a driver’s license, photocopy of the Visa Card or Visa Electron Card, or other credit cards.”

Retailers are often unaware of a customer’s right to privacy while using credit cards, so if a store clerk asks you for a mug shot, feel free to politely show them the policy statements for your credit card.

There are many safeguards which protect credit card customers from fraud. Some companies offer password protection, others monitor typical spending habits and will contact you about purchases which fall outside of the norm. Most credit cards provide services such as Visa and MasterCard’s Zero Liability coverage. If your card is stolen, immediately call your credit card company to report it. If you have taken reasonable precautions against theft, chances are you will not be required to pay for the unauthorized purchases. Visit the web-page of your credit card company and read about the programs they offer. Familiarity with your company’s policies will give you peace of mind, and a game plan of what to do should you be targeted by a fraud.