Another non-medical post, but there’s nothing like a couple of miserable experiences with crappy companies to get me back in the blogging mood.
First, let’s talk about Best Buy.
Best Buy has stores all over the place. Big showrooms. Selection is OK. Sometimes decent prices, other times prices that are grossly overinflated. For example, not long ago, I went into Best Buy looking for an HDMI cable and couldn’t find one for less than $30. Online the cost for an HDMI cable at WalMart was $5. You can get HDMI cables for $3 at Amazon.com. Regarding HDMI cables, CNet has an in-depth explanation as to why “there is absolutely no picture or sound quality difference between a $3.50 cable and a $1,000 cable.”
I recently went to Best Buy because our old printer stopped working and we needed to print our kids’ headshots for an audition. Also, a friend of our family gave us a Netflix subscription for Christmas and a couple of our DVD players don’t have WiFi, so we needed upgrades. The printer I was looking at was $20 more than online competitors and the DVD players were on sale, so they were only about $10 more expensive than their online competitors. I used my debit card to purchase everything.
When I got home, I found that one of our television sets didn’t have HDMI inputs – it only had the old red/white/yellow RCA cable inputs. The DVD player only had HDMI outputs.
So I brought one DVD player back to Best Buy for a refund. Same day. Same store. Unopened package. Showed the cashier the same debit card.
He scanned the receipt and then stated that he needed a copy of my driver’s license or other state ID to process the return.
I told him that he had the unopened package, the receipt, and my debit card.
“Why do you need a copy of my ID?”
“To prevent fraud. How do we know it’s really you that is getting the money back?”
If they were that concerned with fraud, they would ask for the customer’s IDs when they sold the items, so I knew that wasn’t the real reason they wanted my ID.
“What difference does it make if the money is being credited to the same card that was used to make the purchase a couple of hours ago?”
“That’s the corporate policy. No ID, no returns. The receipt says so.”
He made an upside down circle around a paragraph on the receipt stating that “a valid receipt and ID is required for all returns.”
Fine. I held out my driver’s license so he could verify my identity. He tried to take my ID out of my hand.
“I need to scan it into the computer.”
So this isn’t about just verifying my identity, it’s about mining my personal information.
“The receipt doesn’t say that scanning my ID is required for a return. I don’t want you scanning my personal information into your computer where I have no idea what you’re going to do with it.”
“Sir, the receipt also says that ‘Best Buy reserves the right to deny any return.’ We cannot accept your return if we don’t scan your drivers license.”
“Can I talk to a manager?”
The manager came out and I got more of the same song and dance.
“It is Best Buy’s policy to combat fraud in any way possible. We need proof that you are who you say you are before we give you money.”
“You have the proof. I showed him my driver’s license.”
“We need to scan the information into the computer.”
“What happens to the information once it is scanned?”
“It gets entered into a database.”
“It becomes the property of Best Buy.”
“To do whatever Best Buy would like with the data?”
“I don’t know what Best Buy does with the data.”
Best Buy actually keeps a lot of data about its customers. On its “privacy” page, Best Buy allows itself to collect and keep your name, address, e-mail, phone number, credit card information, drivers license number, social security number and any other information about your “lifestyle.” The “privacy” page also has a laundry list of instances in which Best Buy can “share” your information with third parties and warns that “Best Buy cannot ensure or warrant the security of any information you transmit to us and you do so at your own risk.”
Even Best Buy’s “returns” page has a vague description of how Best Buy will use the data it obtains: “Except where prohibited, some of the information from your ID may be stored in a secure database used to track returns and exchanges.” Of course, this could mean that other information from your ID may therefore be stored in an unsecure database and used for whatever other purposes Best Buy chooses.
Obviously I hadn’t looked at Best Buy’s site before all this happened, but at the time, I was faced with a decision. Do I allow my address, driver’s license information, and bank card data all to be collected by Best Buy so that Best Buy could do whatever it wants with the data — and potentially subject myself to identity theft?
Or do I get stuck with a DVD player that I can’t use?
I chose the latter.
“Sorry, but I’m not going to let you scan the information from my driver’s license into your computer system. You understand my uneasiness after all the data from Target customers was stolen, don’t you?”
“Then I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to accept your return.”
And as I type this post, an unopened Samsung DVD player sits idly by my desk.
So, dear readers, be forewarned of what Best Buy has in store for you (no pun intended) if you need to return your purchases. Check your credit report regularly if you do return an item to Best Buy and don’t be surprised if your mailbox starts filling up with unsolicited advertising. Mining data for advertising purposes is big business – even if that information is only “shared.”
I’m certainly not saying that one company has safer storage of personal information than another company. Your data is never entirely “safe” anywhere you go. However, the more data that you allow companies to take from you, the more danger that can result from it. There is no cognizable business interest in a retail corporation retaining someone’s driver’s license number.
An alternative to having Best Buy coerce you into giving up dangerous personal information:
Walk into Best Buy get all the information and model numbers from the items you wish to purchase, then leave and buy those items somewhere else.
Purchase them online.
Go to other retailers who don’t have an overwhelming need to mine your personal information.