How to Protect yourself from Falling Victim to Identity Theft

I like to buy stuff. Who doesn’t? But sometimes, after spending the time finding the stuff and often waiting in line, I find myself outside without the product.

Two problems: first, I like to use my Southwest Visa card to buy stuff with because of the points; second, I do not like giving out personal information unnecessarily. This is not a new phenomenon with me-it started with Radio Shack in the early 1970’s, when they wanted your name and address to make a sale. The result was I stopped going to Radio Shack unless there was no other place to get the stuff and then used the name “Cash Money”.

A few years back, when I refinanced my house, the agent met me at my home. She needed to see my identification, which in a real estate transaction, is reasonable and proper. Because I was giving her a large check, I asked for her information. While she told me she had never been asked for it before, it was a reasonable thing to do, so she showed me her driver’s license. She wrote down my information while I copied hers.

Seems every time I try to buy something in a store (odd this never happens in a restaurant), I am asked “May I see some identification?” I respond: No. “You’re kidding right?” No. “Well our policy is to look at identification for all credit card purchases.” You don’t have to, at least that’s what the credit card companies say. “Well, it’s for your protection.” or “It protects you from fraud.” or “I guess you don’t care about identity theft?” or. . . At this point, depending on my frame of mind, who is with me and how busy the store is, I either try to explain the policy (which never has a positive result), leave without the purchase (which is what happened the other day when I found three really good Marilynn Monroe videos I wanted), or, if I cannot get around it, and really need the thing, show my identification.

I do care about identity theft, which is why I do not show the driver’s license-it simply gives your information to someone you don’t know. I don’t think the clerk behind the register (who is only doing her job as instructed anyway) would show you her driver’s license before looking at yours-but fair is fair.

Generally, the holder of the credit card is not responsible for fraudulent use of the card. And so long as the merchant looks at the signature on the card and on the sales slip and sees they are reasonably similar, they have no risk of loss either. The credit card company is the only party with a direct risk of loss. I think they can take care of themselves.

Yes, I have had to deal with stolen card information and fraudulent use of my credit cards. While it’s a nuisance, it’s not really painful-not like a root canal anyway.

Here’s the rub: neither VISA nor Mastercard require the merchant to look at “government issued identification” unless there is some reason to get the information, such as for shipping purposes. They do permit billing zip codes to be obtained if you use the automated lines at the grocery store or local discount center, or address and postal code if the transaction is e-commerce (over the internet).

Don’t believe me-go check out the merchant agreements for yourself ( and They are long and tedious and I doubt any clerk has ever read them. I know I had not when I was taking credit cards while I worked in retail.

Mastercard: A merchant must not refuse to complete a MasterCard card transaction solely because a cardholder who has complied with the conditions for presentment
of a card at the POI refuses to provide additional identification information,
except as specifically permitted or required by the Standards-Section 9.11.2 of the Merchant Rules Manual updated as of April 7, 2006 (a massive, 268 page document). The VISA rules are much the same.

Does this matter? Maybe, maybe not. I like to think that if enough people object to something that is not right, things can be changed. But Radio Shack still asks for the information.

Am I a curmudgeon? I don’t like to think so, but I bet there are a few sales clerks who believe that to be the case.

The whole point here is: think before you give out any personal information and release it only when required to do so. Ask “why do you need that information?” In this day and age, I think this is the only safe way to act. In the meantime, I will continue my Quixotic tilting at windmills.