Where are the privacy police when you need 'em?

January 22, 2005 22:00 by keithkaragan
So my wife has been having cell phone lust recently. Not over a particular phone, mind you, but over any phone that wasn't the one she had. Granted this was my old one that replaced her much older one - and it wasn't particularly nice looking or terrific from a usability perspective either. We called Verizon to see if she qualified for an upgrade, and she did - so we went shopping.
She quickly found the phone she wanted, and we talked to the sales people regarding the plan specifics, and contract stuff, then decided on the one to go with. We're ready to buy, credit card in hand - BUT WAIT!
Verizon's sales staff indicated they 'NEEDED' to photocopy my driver's license to complete the sale (Mine, since the account is in my name). Ok, so now we have a real problem, because that just ain't gonna happen. Their explanation is that it is a security policy to protect me. Hmm, I feel that I'm in much risk - I never had to fax my driver's license to Verizon when dealing with them on the phone or web ... This is odd. They claimed to need positive ID of me to assure themselves that I am me, and not 'not-me' buying stuff pretending to be me. Considering the fact that A) I and my wife we're in their presence together B) We had both phones (2 numbers) with us at the time C) Had a credit card with the same name as the account that I was to pay with and D) would gladly pony up the PIN NUMBER that Verizon has on file for me or the last 4 digits of my SSN (as they do on the phone)  - the risk was low that I was 'not-me'. I would gladly show them the license (with my ugly mug on it) and let them smirk as they compared it to me - but that was not enough ... they wanted it on file.
If 'on file' meant in the store: I was at low rick of having the information sold, but high risk for an 'evil-doer' sealing my wonderful likeness and personal info to open a Home Depot charge account. If 'on file' meant it was sent to Verizon corporate, identity theft was possible and the information would surely be sold at some time (people are just dying to get their own copies of my DL picture). The sales person recommended buying it online since they don't check this stuff there - Hmm, isn't that nice and consistent.
So we left. I called Verizon's customer service line and was treated respectfully by a person who seemed genuinely concerned with my plight and knew nothing of this policy (BTW - the salespeople indicated this was an 'Industry Standard'). He said he'd call around and get the skinny. The skinny was that the store (and other locations too) do have this as a policy, although it's not corporate policy (hmm), and not an 'Industry Standard' (hmm). He added that the store manager indicated that A copy of a customer's DL, Passport, or Social Security Card was required to establish positive identification (HA!). Note that a Social Security Card is not a form of identification. It used to (maybe still) indicated this on the damn card. The REASON for the copy of the ID is to - get this - ASSURE VERIZON THAT THE SALES PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY CHECKING THE CUSTOMER'S IDENTITY. Oh, I though this was to protect me ... what about me ... helpless little me. BULLSHIT!
So, Verizon would compromise the security of MY personal identifying information to assure themselves that the staff they hire are doing their jobs ... nice. Since they can't be trusted to check the ID, how can they be trusted with the ID. That is ludicrous! The customer service person agreed and said he'd make suggestions to management concerning this. On idea he had was that the ID would be copied and the customer would black out info that they we're uncomfortable with Verizon having - I agreed that it sounded reasonable, but still is offensive as a customer. Treat me like a crook, and I may not be a client for long was the way I put it.
So I bought the phone online, and got an instant rebate instead of a mail-in one, and the phone was promptly delivered. But I've had it, absolutely had it with audacity of companies treating customers like crap. We buy their products, we are the focus of your love and adoration ... oh, wait - companies are heartless entities by definition (literally a legal Proxy identity with all the rights of a person, but none of the HUMAN RESPONSIBILITIES). But this didn't used to be. Companies still fight over getting the customer. They spend countless millions of dollars to acquire us, and then treat us like crap. This is CUSTOMER ABUSE - akin to other domestic abuse in it's mentality and patterns. We don't have to stand for this, we don't have to show our papers on demand to anyone without a badge (hmm), we must pay attention to these intrusions and say 'no way'.
My recommendations:
note: the bracketed portions apply only when treated politely '[ ]' - this is uncommon, please don't expect this too often.
Retail purchases
1)  “[Can I please have your] Zip Code?
      [do not explain or add any other comments - let them figure it out]

2) “I need to see your driver's license [please].”
      Why? ..... My privacy policy prohibits providing this sort of information.
     [Escalate to the sales manager - leave if necessary]

3) “[Can I have your] Phone Number [please]?
     [same rule as #1 - if your single and the clerk is attractive to
     you you can play this as a barter and only provide it if they
     give you theirs - seems fair]

These simple steps, if followed won't really protect you, but they will make you actually aware (if your not already) of the pervasiveness of these practices, and the willingness of companies to ask for information they don't need, and the way that they present it as if you are required to do anything THEY wish in order to be their customer besides simply being a customer and paying for your purchase.
We have the choice to say no, and to shop elsewhere. Most of the info they WANT (not need) is available to them anyway, if they spent the money to harvest it from the databases of companies that collect it from all sorts of public and private institutions. Unless you pay with cash for everything, it would be easy for them to find out way too much info about you. Anything you provide make it cheaper for them to market to you more, and to catalog and sell what they have (phone usage, credit info, etc). If bills in congress pass this next term they'll be able to run a credit report on you at will, and you won't even know it .... What kind of relationship do you want with your retailers? I know I don't want that kind.
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