Best Buy Employees: Hear Me

Today I made a fairly exciting trek to Best Buy to buy some printer ink.  I live on the edge!

While I was checking out and paying with my credit card, the cashier asked to see my ID.   I admit, I’ve shown it in the past, and it has always irritated me.  It doesn’t irritate me because it’s inconvenient to take my license out of my wallet, but rather, because it doesn’t do anything but put me at risk.

Merchant agreements (at least with Visa cards) basically say the merchants can’t demand to see any form of ID to verify the card holder if the card is signed (of course they can require it if you’re buying something that requires ID – like alcohol), but they can ask (and most people may assume that if they’re asking, they don’t have a choice).  The problem with asking for ID is that it exposes essentially any information on that ID – your name, address, height, weight, eye color, license number, date of birth, etc.    Now, we can argue the cashier (or anyone else within visual distance) couldn’t possibly remember any incriminating information, but that’s not the point.   Fundamentally, it exposes you to a greater risk of identity theft.

The clincher is this – I tried to explain in a friendly way why I was hesitant to show my ID, but the cashier was visibly aggravated and simply said, “I’m just trying to protect you.”  

I firmly believe that he believes this, but it’s just not the case.  In a credit card transaction, we have Visa, the bank who issued me the card, Best Buy (in this case), and me, all involved in this transaction.   In reality, he’s protecting Best Buy, not me.  Nothing wrong with that as an employee, but not at the expense of exposing my personal information.

On 2 occasions over the past 10 years, my credit card information has been compromised by someone – I never found out how because Visa won’t tell me, but they were pretty broad cases that happened to many people online so the presumption was an online retailer was compromised.    In any event, it was not really a problem – I signed a paper that said I didn’t make the charge, and the problem for me was gone.  It would be far worse if someone opened an account in my name or I was a victim of fully blown identity theft.   And the best way to avoid identity theft is to never expose your personal information.

In this case, if I were a criminal (craftily trying to forestall suspicion by buying printer ink for $30 instead of a $10k home theater) I would’ve refused to show ID and Best Buy would have to accept the sale anyway (if my signatures matched).   So all I’m doing is proving I’m me, and I already knew that. 

So what could the Best Buy cashier do?   Well, comparing signatures on the card is a pretty fool proof method --  nothing more is needed.  Next is applying common sense – I’m buying printer ink for $30.   Visa will automatically call me or block an ‘out of character’ transaction.    I used to work retail and the credit card machine would return a “Call” message instead of “Approved” in these cases.  If I fail the signature test, either call Visa or ask for an ID.

What happens if I was a criminal and was able to buy the ink?  Well, I’d notice this on my statement and refute the charge, at which time someone will be screwed – either Best Buy or the bank – I’m guessing it depends on what kind of evidence is produced and perhaps their agreements in place, I’m not sure.   

So if Best Buy or another merchant is so exposed, why accept Visa (or other) credit cards at all?   As I mentioned above, signatures are a pretty fool proof method.  But, the reason is getting more business.   Best Buy has the option to not accept Visa, but they have made the choice to accept the merchant agreement in doing so.   If Visa thought it was a problem, they’d change the agreement or put my picture on the card.

Should the cashier or any other merchant read this, my advice is to always be friendly – lose the chip on your shoulder if you have one.  I was politely trying to explain this and not give the guy a hard time (no one was in line behind me), so as long as I’m friendly, be open to the possibility I might know what I’m talking about.   In turn, it aggravated me that he was so aggravated.   I’ve been there myself, and I work with customers all the time today – fortunately the vast majority are great. 

Coincidentally, and to make this entry a little more apropos, while I was writing this I saw a Microsoft commercial for IE8 that talks about identity theft – check it out at http://ie8protects.com… it’s a “reality” style commercial where they set up a fake bank, and entice customers into a false sense of security – it was pretty funny actually, especially since I was writing this post!

How about you?  Do you care if merchants ask to see your ID?   If so, did this post change your mind?

Comments (1) -

Jim Black
Jim Black
6/25/2010 8:45:24 AM #

Well.... you got me thinking... Never occurred to me that I may be giving away too much information when handing over my drivers license for review and confirmation.  But then what it the little tweenie-weenie behind the counter going to do... unless they have some super photographic memory or something.  But you are correct on the services provided by Visa and other CC companies, they got ya covered and if you monitor your own statements, you should have nothing to worry about and no reason to hand over your ID for review.

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