Consumer Complacency Leads to Identity Theft and Invasion of Privacy

People are inundated daily with requests for their personal information such as their full name, address and telephone number. Most of us have become so accustomed to these requests that we complacently comply when asked for this information. While some of these requests (like those from doctors’ offices, job applications and government agencies) may be legitimate, many are not. Even the legitimate requests often ask for far more information than necessary. To effectively combat identity theft and invasion of privacy, consumers need to proactively protect their personal information by only sharing the necessary information on an as needed basis.

Most major grocery stores have implemented the use of shopping cards. To receive the advertised specials, a consumer must have a “shopping card”. To receive one of these cards, you must give the store basic personal information. While identity theft is highly unlikely to occur, invasion of your privacy may. The store now has the ability to track all of your purchases presumably with your permission. Consumers, understandably, are unlikely to care if their local grocer knows how many bananas or how many rolls of toilet paper they purchase each week.

However, many of these grocery stores have pharmacies. If these pharmacies required you to present your shopping card to get the best prices on your prescriptions, the grocer would have the ability to track your medical history which would be stored in the grocer’s central database. While pharmacists and their staff are trained in HIPPA regulations to ensure your medical records remain confidential, grocery store employees are not. However unlikely it may be, the potential for abuse is real. This is one of the largest reasons people look at establishing privately held companies.

It is increasingly difficult to shop without imparting some degree of personal information to the store. Cashiers routinely ask for either your zip code or your telephone number. Zip codes help the store determine the demographics of their shoppers. However, telephone numbers do not. If I give the cashier my phone number, I am giving the store my tacit permission to call me. When asked for my phone number, I politely say, “No, thank you.” The cashier is usually surprised but none have been offended. My phone number is on the do not call list for a reason. I do not want telemarketing calls.

Employment applications and doctors’ offices routinely ask for social security numbers. Unless you are applying for a federal job, you do not need to provide a potential employer with a social security number until after you are hired. Doctors’ offices usually claim they need your social security number for insurance purposes. My insurance company doesn’t have my social security number so why does my doctor need it?

With the advent of new technology, the risk of invasion of privacy and identity theft has increased. Consumers should be discerning when giving out personal information. The danger isn’t in obtaining a shopping card or in giving the cashier your zip code; it is in doing so without any thought to the possible implications. Consumers need to know how their information is being utilized.