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For Credit Card Purchases, Are Retailers' Demands For More Personal Information Legal?

In the MSNBC Red Tape Chronicles blog, Bob Sullivan has raised some interesting questions about what questions, if any, by retail cashiers are appropriate during a purchase with a credit card. Bob wrote:

" 'Can I see your driver's license'? 'Can I have your phone number'? 'Do you have another form of ID'? But how do you answer? It seems that to shop is to be interviewed. Everywhere you go, you are asked invasive questions. And every time you look at the news, you see another company is losing consumers' data. So you would probably rather not answer those kinds of questions, but can you say '€œno'€? Yes, say legal experts."

Bob has raised several important issues. First, it's a great idea for consumers to know their rights. Second, it makes good sense for consumers to not disclose more personal data than required. Third, consumers have a choice about whether or not to shop at a retailer that asks more questions than they feel comfortable asking.

Fourth, Bob Sullivan highlighted the Visa merchant agreement policy. This gives consumers an option to complain about retailers than violate Visa's policy:

"Complaining is simple. Call your credit card issuer (your bank) and tell them. They will in turn pass the complaint along to the acquiring bank (the store's bank). That might sound like a meaningless paper trail exercise, but it isn’t. Violation of Visa terms can actually get a merchant knocked off the credit card network, which is nearly the death penalty in today's retail world.

For consumers who are interested, see page 2-21 of the MasterCard Merchant Rules document (PDF).

Also, I checked the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Web site and merchant laws vary by state. This is important both for consumers to know their rights, and for consumers considering a lawsuit of a retailer that requested too much personal data. For example, in Massachusetts consumers are encourage to, "notify the office of consumer affairs and business regulation or the office of the attorney general."


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