Return policies changed

DAVID CANTON - For the London Free Press - September 3, 2005 Read this on Canoe

Have you ever returned merchandise to a store and been asked to produce ID or a driver's licence?

After an Alberta privacy decision, returning merchandise may be different than it used to be.

The Alberta privacy commissioner recently released a decision on merchandise return policies, deciding that while it was acceptable for a store to ask for photo ID to confirm the person's identity, it is not acceptable for the store to keep a copy of that ID or a record of a driver's licence number.

The Alberta decision resulted from an investigation into complaints that Canadian Tire stores refused to complete a return transaction unless the customer provided a driver's licence number that was recorded.

Stores take your name and address and ask for ID when you return something because a significant number of returns are fraudulent. For example, thieves steal merchandise, then return it for a refund.

Requiring ID discourages that kind of fraud, since it is more difficult for the person to remain anonymous. The commissioner determined that requiring the ID was sufficient for that purpose -- recording it was not necessary.

During the investigation, the commissioner talked to store management and received submissions from the Retail Council of Canada and the Canadian Tire Dealers' Association.

Many businesses reported that criminals, when asked for personal information, would refuse or leave the store immediately. As the Retail Council of Canada put it, "criminals abhor visibility."

The Alberta privacy commissioner did not comment on the privacy aspects of recording the person's name, address and phone number because the complainant was not concerned about that. He did point out the British Columbia privacy commissioner had considered and accepted that practice.

The privacy commissioner stated in a news release that:

"In response to this office's investigation, the Calgary store immediately ceased collecting and retaining ID as part of its return of goods transactions. As well, Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd., in consultation with the Canadian Tire Dealers' Association (CTDA) committed to redesign the merchandise return computer system used by all Canadian Tire stores so that ID can no longer be entered into the system.

"They also agreed to purge the existing numbers from the system. The CTDA agreed to communicate this report to all Canadian Tire associate dealers and to revise corporate merchandise return policies required as a result of this report."

Even though this is a decision under the Alberta privacy legislation, there is no reason to believe the decision would be different in other provinces or under other Canadian privacy legislation.

The message for consumers is to understand there is a legitimate reason for a store to ask for your name and address when you return something. Consumers ultimately pay the price for fraud and theft.

If we are asked to show photo ID to confirm our address, we should willingly do so.

The store may not, however, keep a copy of that ID or record information off that ID.

Retailers that require copies of ID or information from that ID for returns should change those policies. Failure to do so could result in complaints to the privacy commissioner.

David CantonIn the press, privacy