12 December 2011

Holiday Shopping and ID

The holiday season is underway, and by now you are out there going after all those holiday specials! But before you head out the door, here are some important shopping tips when you pay for your purchases by credit or debit card:

1. Make sure that all your credit and debit cards are signed on the back. Don't write "SEE ID" on the back - that statement is not valid as a signature. Besides, merchants have to comply with the policies set by the credit card issuers, and among the policies is that credit card users must sign the back panel of the card prior to use.

2. Keep - in a separate place such as a password protected Word document or Excel spreadsheet - a list of the credit and debit card numbers and the associated toll free telephone number to that card's particular issuer in case the card is lost, stolen, or the number is compromised. Don't keep a printed copy with your cards!

3. Provided you have signed your card on the back as required, merchants have NO right to demand your ID. Why?

First and foremost, it is against policies set by the credit card issuers, namely MasterCard and Visa. However, there is one exception: A merchant can require ID if the card is not signed on the back as you are supposed to.

Second, a merchant's wanting to know where you live is absolutely none of their business. Merchants such as Wal-Mart (in Florida, we should call them trespass and ban for life happy Wal-Mart) and CompUSA are very notorious for this.

A Florida Driver's License is the worst identity document to have in your possession other than the fact that you need it for driving a motor vehicle. You need it in case a law enforcement officer pulls you over or if you are in an accident. A Florida Driver's License contains - as required by the federal REAL ID law concerning standards for state drivers licenses - your name and your physical street address; in other words, where you live. Besides, a physical street address is a goldmine, not only for nosy and dabbling store clerks but for stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators who happen to come across your license.

If you are confronted by a store clerk at the register demanding your ID, you are well within your rights to say no. If the store clerk gets belligerent with you, politely and professionally ask to speak with the store manager. Nine times out of ten a store manager will say that checking ID is their policy to prevent identify theft, but that alone is a false statement. Besides, store clerks themselves have been involved in identity theft cases as the perpetrators!

Protecting yourself against identity theft is a straightforward process on your part. We know how to keep our credit/debit cards and Social Security numbers out of the hands of unknown persons, and to check our credit reports once a year.

4. Always check your credit and bank account statements periodically. Notify your bank, credit union or credit card issuer of any inaccuracies.

While we are on the subject of ID's, the best American identity document you want to carry around is the Passport Card. Not only it fits in your wallet unlike the traditional passport book, you can use it to cross the Canadian/Mexican border for short trips to Canada or Mexico across our land borders as well as domestically here in the USA to board your flight and gain admittance to federal facilities as the passport card is a REAL ID compliant document. (Remember, a passport card cannot be used to enter the United States by air, even if you are coming from Canada or Mexico - this is where the traditional passport book comes in).

And the good thing about a passport card is that it does not reveal where you live, such as your physical street address (unlike a Florida Driver's License or a Florida ID card). The passport card contains the benchmarks required by the federal REAL ID law yet providing a degree of privacy for the cardholder. Better yet, a passport card costs $30 and it's valid for ten years, compared to a State of Florida ID card which costs $25 but is only valid for eight years. Besides, if you have a Florida ID card and you move to another state, you have to end up getting a new state ID card in your new state of residence which means more fees and more hassle at the state DMV, but if you have a passport card it is a federal document good anywhere in the USA.

Reminder: If you have a driver's license and you move, be sure to obtain a driver's license in your new state of residence. It is the law in all 50 states! Active duty military pursuant to federal law are exempt, just make sure you have your military ID with you in case you are questioned by a law enforcement officer regarding your out of state driver's license.

The U.S. State Department has more details on the passport card as well as how to apply and application forms. Believe me, it's worth the $30!

Remember, the only time you need to carry your Florida Driver's License (or the driver's license from your home state) and to produce it is this:

1. While you are operating a motor vehicle
2. In case of a traffic stop
3. In case of a motor vehicle accident
Besides, you also need your registration and proof of insurance - it's the law
4. When you rent a car - it is illegal for any rental car company (such as Alamo) to rent to anyone who does not have a valid driver's license

To law enforcement or a rental car company, a driver's license is one thing. But to store clerks such as those at Wal-Mart, CompUSA or any other merchant who has strict ID policies when it comes to using your credit or debit card, my driver's license and where I live is none of your business!

If you are confronted by a belligerent store clerk who rudely or surly demands your ID, and the store manager on duty does not wish to help you, there are at least two things you can do:

1. If you have a passport card, use it as ID. This takes care of 99% of all ID encounters when retail stores are involved.

2. Leave the items on the counter and patronize a different merchant.

And I did not forget Item Number 3: Go to RipOffReport.com and share your experience with that particular store. Also go to ConsumerAffairs.com and share your experience wth that particular store as well. These sites are also great to share your experiences if you have run into rude, belligerent or surly store clerks and you get no satisfaction from the store manager in charge.

If you have an unfavorable experience with a belligerent or surly store clerk, especially if ID is demanded of you when you pay for your items at the register, please feel free to share your experiences here by posting a reply. All I ask is that the replies be kept clean and no personally identifying information; your reply will not show up until I have moderated it.

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