Dear Consumer Ed:
I am tired of being asked for personal information when I am simply trying to buy something. What does Georgia Law say concerning merchants "requiring" an address when you are making a purchase or trying to return or exchange merchandise? I am asking this with regards to actually being at a place of business and NOT shopping online. Today I tried to exchange an article of clothing and was told by the sales person that I had to provide my address in order to conduct the exchange. Is this legal?
Consumer Ed Says:
Georgia law generally doesn't prohibit merchants from asking that consumers provide personal information in order to complete a transaction, with some very limited exceptions. When a customer pays for a purchase by personal check, the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act specifies the information a business may collect for identification purposes. It states that a merchant may not imprint or copy the customer's credit or debit card number as a condition of purchase by check. However, the merchant may still:
- Request a driver's license number.
- Ask to see a credit or debit card as a form of identification.
- Record on the check the type of credit card and expiration date.
- Record a credit card number and expiration date, if the credit card company has agreed to guarantee checks as a special service to its cardholders.
- Record an address and telephone number.
Ultimately, a merchant may require that you provide your address in order to make a purchase or to process a return or exchange of goods at their business. Businesses often ask customers for their personal information for a variety of reasons, including: to keep track of the customer's purchases under the merchant's loyalty rewards program; to build customer purchasing profiles to help them better market their products and services to you; or to create "return profiles" that catalog and analyze returns in their store to detect fraud and organized retail crime.
Merchants are free to request information as a requirement of transacting business with them, but ultimately the decision to do business with a particular merchant is up you, the customer. So the decision whether to share your personal information with a merchant or to withhold your personal information is in your hands. A business may decide not to provide you with a service or benefit if you don't provide your information. However, you should discuss any concerns you have with the merchant - they may be willing to waive the requirement that you give them your personal information or that may be able to allay your concerns by explaining how they use your personal information and how they ensure your information is kept private.
A few tips
- Ask questions. If a merchant asks for personal information that you feel uncomfortable disclosing, don't be afraid to ask questions, such as:
- Why do you need it?
- What will you do with it?
- What authority do you have to require that I provide it?
- What are the consequences if I don't provide it?
- How will you protect my personal information?
- How will you dispose of my personal information once you're finished using it?
- Look for disclosure notices. Often merchants will have a notice at the cash register or on your sales receipt indicating the merchant's terms of purchase and terms for returning merchandise, including what information you may be asked to give them in order to complete a transaction or make a return. Review these notices carefully before you make a purchase so that you are not caught unaware later.
- Don't be afraid to say no. If you do not feel secure sharing your personal information with a particular merchant, or have concerns that your information will not be kept confidential, don't risk it. Take your business elsewhere.
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