It seems incongruous in today’s world where individuals post intimate details of their lives that can be accessed and disseminated countless times by their thousands of “friends” that some people find fault with businesses for tracking who returns merchandise.
A lawsuit against Best Buy that was dismissed illustrates the lack of people’s understanding of how far their privacy rights extend.
In the case, the magnetic strip on a Best Buy customer’s driver’s license was run through the store’s computer when the person returned merchandise. The customer demanded the information be deleted. Best Buy, like a lot of business, said it retains the record to track returns and to spot patterns that may indicate fraud. It refused to purge the information. The customer sued, claiming violation of privacy laws. A federal appeals court agreed with a lower court ruling that this action is not unlawful.
There is a legitimate business interest in tracking returns. According to the story, almost 9 percent of all sales result in returns. That’s a whopping $264 billion a year.
Lisa LaBruno, senior vice president of retail operations at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, told The Associated Press organized retail crime costs retailers billions of dollars. She said it is bigger than the small-time shoplifters and involves organized groups of criminals who make a living from large-scale theft. This often involves switching the UPC codes so an expensive item registers at a much lower price. Later, the thieves switch the UPC codes back to the higher price and return the item without a receipt for store credit, which can be sold online.
To combat this, stores have started tracking returns to see if they can spot fraud.
Privacy advocates bristle at stores that do this without letting their customers know.
“There should be no secret databases. That’s a basic rule of privacy practices,” said Ed Mierzqinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “Consumers should know that information is being collected about them.”
You have to be pretty naive if you believe businesses — and the government — haven’t been tracking your information. With email, online shopping, social media, credit cards and “rewards” card at grocery stores, there are companies that may know more about you than your own family does.
While it would be a positive step on the part of businesses to prominently display their policies on tracking returns or what information they compile, people would be wise to take note of the principle of caveat emptor — “let the buyer beware.” There should be a very limited expectation to privacy with anything you say or do in public.