Monday, June 13, 2016

Kohl's and the Battle for Personal Privacy

The ZIP code for the White House is 20500.

The U.S. Pentagon has six ZIP codes, but the Secretary of Defense's is 20318.

I won't tell you to memorize these ZIP codes. But I'm using them. Every time some sales associate asks for my ZIP code instead of asking "cash or credit," I'm giving her one of these instead.

Retail transactions are no longer a simple, "here, take my money" affair. No, they call for key tags. Reward cards. PIN numbers. Phone numbers. Information the retailer likely already has or does not need.

I'm not paranoid. But I believe each time I give a store clerk my ZIP code, or my phone number, or some seemingly innocuous piece of data, I'm inviting them to look into my personal life.

THEY DON'T HAVE THAT RIGHT. They're merchants. They're not providing national security. They're selling me a shirt. End of relationship.

Flamingos at Sarasota Jungle Gardens, 34234.
 (C) DKassnoff, 2013
My private war with retailers is the ZIP code battlefield. They don't need it, and you don't need to give it to them. So make one up. Take a few seconds to find a ZIP code for the Burger King in Spokane, WA. Or Sarasota Jungle Gardens (34234). Get creative. If you don't find one, I've provided two above.

No merchant does a poorer job of this than Kohl's, the clothing and cosmetics chain. Don't have your Kohl's Reward card? No problem. Just enter your Social Security Number.

My what?

Hey, Kohl's: SSIs are the Number One method used to execute Identity Theft. That's why government agencies urge consumers not to give them out.

Apparently, Kohl's couldn't find my SSI number. The poor cashier next asked for my driver's license. Then he wanted my phone number.

That's when I walked out.

Note to Kohl's: it's time to climb out of the cave where your rewards program was conceived. I'm no longer sharing ZIP codes, driver's licenses, or SSI numbers in exchange for a fat $2 off a $28 purchase. Your database doesn't need to know I bought a dress shirt.

Other retailers engage in ZIP Code harvesting, including Five Below. As if they're going to alter the inventory of their Made in China mother lode based upon my buying pattern. I bought a $5 charging cable. Quick, fire up the Big Data Machine!

You want to identify me when I don't have my reward card? TAKE A DIGITAL PICTURE OF 
ME, add it to my file. No numbers. No codes. I'm a bald man with glasses and a goatee. No one's going to confuse me with Brad Pitt. It's hard to go wrong here. My bank did this some time ago, and even if I get a haircut or wear a hat, the teller knows it's me.

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