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Avoiding Best Buy’s Personal Information Grab

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.
2-9-2014 12-52-59 PM
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.” Best Buy Return Policy
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.”
“Then what?”
“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.

Caveat emptor.

13 comments

  1. Best Buy has been nothing but an Amazon showroom for at least a decade, now. I am baffled by the people I know who shop there. Why use your money to endorse a company that insists on treating its customers like dogshit?

    Furthermore, it never ceases to amaze me that people are so ignorant about the value of their personal informarion

    • *information (phone posting is hard). They give out their Socials to idiots in call centers like it’s nothing, and companies keep becoming ever more demanding that we keep handing out our data without question.

      Even scarier is that this trend is now extending to medicine. I had to watch a shitty TED talk last week for class in which some thinktank asshole was arguing hard for an open access medical data bank like it’s the Holy Grail of medical innovation. Just stop being such a paranoid milquetoast, he argued, and give us your chart.

      Unfortunately, most people do not understand the importance of privacy, or how vulnerable we are without it. I think we need more Target fiascos. A LOT MORE Target fiascos, before we collectively start to understand the value of data and start pushing back against bullies like Best Buy.

      In the meantime, there’s you, and posts like this, to seed this idea in the periphery while the rest slumber.

      Thanks for this post.

  2. Interesting. I returned something before Christmas at a BestBuy in Alabama and they only asked for the receipt. I didn’t have to show any ID.

  3. I want to know how you found a human being to talk to.

  4. I’m sorry that happened to you. I’m sorry so many things are going the way they are now. I appreciate so many things about modern technology …but sometimes I just wish we could go back to the simpler times. heck …sometimes I think I think I’d rather climb up to the top of a telephone pole and ring for the operator (Hello Sarah?), like Eddie Albert in “Green Acres” (60s/70s sitcom)

    Good for you. Oh you know you were their headache of the day. they were just doing their jobs …but I hate how we all mindlessly just do what we are told to do. It would not have occurred to me to question. Thank you for enlightening us. :)

    Maybe you can sell it on Ebay or in a yard sale …or donate to a good cause.

  5. They are using a third party to track refunds and exchanges, ostensibly to prevent fraud. I doubt that anyone at the store had the authority to override the policy. I used to be a manager at one of the other retailers that used the same company, although we weren’t allowed to save any CC or DL information. I would be a lot more worried about their privacy page. That definitely sounds shady.

    http://www.dailytech.com/Retail+Stores+Tracking+Customers+Who+Make+Returns+Creating+Return+Profiles/article33162.htm
    http://www.theretailequation.com/

  6. There is actually a non-sinister reason why they want your ID.

    They want to track if one particular individual causes a lot of returns (obvious hint of fraud). For that, they need to enter your identifying information in a database so they can compare against previous returns. Yes, they could do it in such a way that doesn’t scan your license, but it sounds like they picked the easy way and made it policy.

  7. 1) If the address on your driver’s license isn’t a maildrop, rather than your front door, shame on you, and welcome to the 21st century.
    2) A $1 magnet removes all the data on the magnetic strip on the back. Pisses off cops writing tickets in a hurry, and there’s not a damned thing they or Best Buy can do when it won’t cough up your life story.
    3) “Policies” that you didn’t sign are unenforceable boilerplate. Sue them, in small claims court if necessary, get a class action going (or join one) report them to the BBB, on online reviews like Yelp!, and anywhere else you can make their corporate life a living hell.
    4) Don’t overlook the sheer fun of getting a demonstration permit, and picketing their store with a giant sign until the manager comes out to fix things. Sometimes, you have to get the mule’s attention with a 2×4.”Best Buy Rips Off Customers” while wearing a suit and tie is always a winner on a Saturday. Call the local news stations and papers too. They love human interest and consumer watchdog stories.
    BTW, if you have a friend who’d like to “interview” the manager as a news reporter while you’re there, so much the better. Why celebrate Halloween once a year?
    5) Depending upon your moral bent, realize that college kids get fake IDs all the time. The next time someone unentitled asks for your license, hand it over. The one that says your name is Bob Sledder, and that you’re 21, and live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Just like Herman Munster.
    6) No one who buys an item can be forced to produce a driver’s license. “My license was revoked.” But with a laminator from an office supply store, and a color printer, you can produce all the picture IDs they want, with all the information you care to make up. Just saying.
    7) Don’t buy things on credit or debit card at info miners like WorstBuy.
    If you pay cash, they have to refund cash.
    Lawsuits for fraud are bad, and so is calling the cops on them, or forcing them to do the same to you.
    It’s annoying to have to act like a child throwing a tantrum in order to be treated like an adult, but you do what you have to.
    8) Purely for informational purposes, Richard Nixon’s Social Security number is 567-68-0515.
    9) You can’t believe how much I miss the old phone company number for the correct time, nor how many times I gave it out to nosy retailers.
    10) Your state probably has consumer protection laws. Find out which one Best Buy is (almost certainly) violating, and take them to the cleaners for it. Make this the most expensive refund they didn’t give.

    Have a monkeywrench day!

    • There are way too many things I like about this entry for me to post/comment.

      Aesop, well done. Thanks for the chuckles and practical advice!

      /changing name to Bob Sledder

    • All the points. You get ALL of the points. Love, love, love this post. Wish you were my bff.

    • 1) Some states, like the moronic nanny state where I live, don’t allow post office box info on your driver’s license. In my city, there is zero home delivery of mail – you must have a po box to receive anything through the USPS. Regardless, our driver’s licenses need a physical address… even though if they sent a ticket to that address, it would be returned. So, good thought, but not as easily achieved.

  8. I’ll buy that DVD player from you if you still don’t want it…

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