Monday, October 20, 2008

Violation at the Mall

October 2008

Winter is creeping up like some great white beast. It will be my first REAL winter in quite a while. with ice storms and blizzards and all that mess. I am kind of looking forward to it, at least on the first days. The problem was I really didn't have anything warm to see me through.

So after a quick scouting through the local shops and finding nothing, I decided that I would finally have to make my way to Staten Island Mall. It took forever but the transport was not crowded and the bus was cleaner than you would expect for mass transit in New York.

Anyway, I got there, spilled out into the parking lot and began the expedition. It was larger inside than outside, or as the outside appeared. But the prices at Macy’s, for example, were eye-popping. I nearly ran through the store to get into the main corridor.

I finally ended up at Sears. Sears was always my parent’s store. The place for unfashionable but sturdy blue jeans that could last forever, though you wouldn't be caught dead in them. The place for hardware and practical items.. but hardly luxuries. (Luxury for my parents had been any bath towel that was larger enough to wrap around you and a different color than white.) I found a nice and affordable jacket with a hood and a fake lambs wool interior. Looked like something that would save my life for a hour if I was somehow caught in a snowstorm. As I came to cashier, she said, “Would you like to have a Sears card?"

Wary as a rejected lover, I hesitated.  I had been refused store cards before without any explanation and idea of filling out the forms.. well, why bother?

But the lady said,”You can get 15 dollars off this purchase.” So I thought, hell I could practically buy another for the same price. Not quite.

The form was quite streamlined. She took my driver’s license and typed it into the computer and then she asked.. “This your correct address?”

“Your social security number? she requested without looking up.

I thought.. well, okay but.. is that necessary?.. oh yes, I guess but do.. I want the 15 bucks that much? But I did.. so I gave it. And then my telephone number.  After giving every detail of my identity away to this relative stranger, she waited for me to be processed. And then she turned and said, “Sorry, you haven't been accepted. If you would like to know the details, here is a telephone number to call. Thank you and have a nice day.”

“Excuse me, but you have all my information and you gave me nothing in return. I understood that by giving this information I would be eligible for a discount on my purchase.”

“I am sorry but you were not accepted. I cannot help you. Have a nice day.”

“But this was personal information you have collected on me and how do I know how this information will be used.”

She acted as though this was an idea that had never occurred to her. As if I had invented the whole concept of identity theft. “Well, I don't.. I don't think Sears has ever had a problem with stolen information..” And then she pulled that old  trick, of shrugging and a weak sympathetic smile to say, I only work here.. I am only a small cog in a vast machine, don't blame ME.

Judging my TV ads, and infomercials, the problem of identity theft seems to be a significant one in the USA but then it is no surprise if this “information trawling” is standard practice every time one buys any item from a department store. Experts tell us of the dangers of ID theft and how people are careless when it comes to protecting themselves and their information. It is like swimming in shark invested waters but instead of losing your leg, you lose your identity..

From our old friend Wikipedia:

Identity theft is a term used to refer to fraud that involves stealing money or getting other benefits by pretending to be someone else. The term is relatively new and is actually a misnomer, since it is not inherently possible to steal an identity, only to use it. The person whose identity is used can suffer various consequences when they are held responsible for the perpetrator's actions. In many countries specific laws make it a crime to use another person's identity for personal gain.

I trudged away, angry and yet, not knowing exactly why. As if somebody somewhere had pulled a fast one on me, but I couldn't exactly understand how the con worked. In any case, I marched upstairs and purchased the digital camera I had had my eye on.  To my astonishment, the whole thing began again. The cashier with a slight bored expression began asking me all kinds of personal questions. “And how do you spell your middle name?”

So, slowly steaming, I finally sighed and asked the sales clerk,"Is all this information REALLY necessary just to buy this camera? Why do you need to know my telephone number? My address?" I noticed Marius had his name floridly tattooed on his forearm but it didn't match the spelling on his name tag.

Yeah, we gotta have it in case you wanna  return it.” Sympathetic smile and shrug.


  1. Generally, paying with cash and telling the cashier he or she may call you "Sir" or "Ma'am" when they ask for your private details is the only response to give. Retail store credit cards are notoriously expensive in terms of interest rates, and they sell all your information off to telemarketers and anyone ready to buy your information (and access to your credit card or debit card information, plus all your personal information) collected there.

    Store databases--which compile all your private data plus all your credit and debit card numbers, full access to your money--are notoriously easy to hack. Just google "Winners/TJMaxx identity theft scandal Canada" to see what happened to millions of Canadians who'd mindlessly answered their cashiers' requests for phone numbers at each purchase, where they usually paid with credit and debit cards, as many Canadians do.

    Best policy: pay with cash, smile warmly and silently when asked for any personal information. No discount is worth even one telemarketer's call (which is the least offensive result of giving up your private information to these people).

  2. That's exactly right. I guess the reason I felt kind of violated was that it just seemed so routine and I was being a big humbug for even questioning it. The blog was too long to include the other thing.
    I was walking down the main corridor and some woman selling hand/body cream literally grabbed my arm and started trying to sell me this gooey stuff. She had put a big dallop on my palm before I could say anything and she is talking at me a mile a minute and touching me too much. (Woman can get away with that, I suppose. A man would get arrested.) She was Israeli and the stuff was from the Red Sea. And boy, she was definitely hard sell..I said finally, "Sorry i dont like that technique. But good luck." later I was thinking like a true paranoid, was that some Mossad technique to grab some DNA samples??!! yeah I really think like that.


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