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It's an attempt to stop organized retail crime

Retail stores are collecting customer information and creating profiles for those who make returns in an attempt to combat theft, but privacy groups aren't happy about it. 

Large retail stores have had issues with organized crime and chronic returners over the years. Individuals have come up with some pretty elaborate schemes, such as switching UPC codes and purchasing an expensive item for much cheaper. Then, they switch the UPC codes back again and return the item without a receipt, receiving the original price in store credit and selling that credit online. 

Retailers have been looking for ways to deter such thievery, and their answer has been to store personal information on each customer that makes a return. With this information, they create a "return profile," which allows odd shopping/return patterns to be detected. 

Retailers -- such as Best Buy, J.C. Penney, Victoria's Secret, Home Depot and Nike -- use a company called The Retail Equation in order to create these profiles. It works like this: when a customer makes a return, the retailer scans a form of ID (such as a driver's license) and the customer's personal information -- along with the details of the return -- are sent to The Retail Equation.

The Retail Equation then uses this information to create a profile for that shopper, and holds on to this profile for an undetermined amount of time. If a customer has odd return patterns that suggest theft, the store is alerted and they typically don't accept returns from that customer for a period of time. 

While this seems to help the retailers' cause, consumer advocates (like the U.S. Public Interest Research Group) believe this is a breach of privacy to shoppers. They've demanded answers, such as where the information is sent, how long it's kept and who the information is shared with.

The amount of time information is kept varies from retailer to retailer, and according to The Retail Equation, shopper information is only shared with the retailer in which it's collected from. For instance, if The Retail Equation receives information on a return from Best Buy, only Best Buy will receive access to that return profile; not third parties or other retailers like Victoria's Secret. 

Retailers like Best Buy have already started printing warnings on the back of their receipts regarding the fact that returns will be tracked so that shoppers are aware. 

The retail stores added that protecting their financial standings isn't the only reason for the tracking -- but that organized retail crime leads to other local crimes, such as drug trafficking, and preventing one also stops the other. 

Source: Today Money

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By AlvinCool on 8/13/2013 10:36:01 AM , Rating: 3
I wouldn't really believe this if I had not seen it in action. A manager two levels above me making 200K a year would go to Target in the am and buy a large clearance item for cash. Then he would take it back at night and "return" it for the lowest sale price. Sometimes he would net $50 an item. I asked him why he did it and he responded his wife kept him on a tight leash and he used that for his spending money. He had no problems at all stealing from that store. I never understood it.

RE: Target
By amanojaku on 8/13/2013 11:24:05 AM , Rating: 3
Then that speaks volumes about Target's policies and employees. Returns and exchanges are supposed to be accompanied by a receipt. This prevents the store from receiving inventory it never sold (important in the case of damaged items, bricks in the box, or inventory that's no longer for sale), allows cashiers to refund or credit the proper amount (so people like your manager's manager don't make money during sales), and to prevent thieves from stealing legitimate customers' purchases for returns (you want to credit customers, not the guys who robbed them).

The old receipt is taken away, the sales number from that receipt is used to issue a new one, with the return or exchange noted on both the receipt and the register's sales transaction. This way, the customer can't profit off of something that's already been returned, but still has a copy of the receipt for items he has in his possession.

The alternative is to take customers' information during sales to help with returns, if the customers are OK with that. The companies may or may not use that information for direct marketing (with consent, and through Constant Contact, for example, where a person can opt out), but it's NOT supposed to be sold to other companies or used to track your returns. All of the sales history would be in the RETAILER'S computers, not some third party's.

RE: Target
By WoWCow on 8/13/2013 11:34:43 AM , Rating: 3
Which is why only store credits (gift cards) are given, not cash.

Believe me, if you can simply deny every return without a receipt (without 100+ people waiting and throwing tantrums) the job would be a lot easier.

Review your consumer perspective here.

RE: Target
By amanojaku on 8/13/2013 12:08:45 PM , Rating: 2
Why did you link to this article? It's a how-to guide, not a list of customer return horror stories, so there is no consumer perspective to review.

In fact, the return/exchange policies listed favor customers:
Check That Store's Policy

Before doing anything else, check up on that store's return policy, so you know what you're going to face. Many stores don't actually care about having a receipt— Wal-Mart, for example, will let you get cash back for anything under $25, and store credit for anything above that—no receipt necessary. Target, on the other hand, can look up any purchase using your credit card or gift card. If you shop at stores like Costco, that require a membership, they can easily track your account's purchases. Amazon even has a policy for gift returns, which is great when you don't have the receipt yourself. Basically, don't waste time building up a case if you don't need it—check your store's policy, see if you can wrangle up whatever you need to get your money back, and head on in.

Amazon's gift return policy:
Enter the number of the order you want to return. Note: Your 17-digit order number (or "Order ID") is found on the left side of your packing slip. If you don't have the packing slip, you can Contact Us. We'll ask for information to help us locate the order, such as the sender's name, their e-mail address, their phone number, and information about the item you wish to return.

As far as gifts are concerned, you don't have the right to return it to the store since you didn't buy it. It's nice of the companies to take returns on gifts, but not legally required. You could just eBay or Craiglist your gift. It was given to you for FREE, after all.

RE: Target
By TSS on 8/14/2013 4:50:02 PM , Rating: 2
... You mean to tell me you can return stuff in the US without a receipt?

I'm sorry but here in holland that's just unheard of. You can throw whatever kind of tantrum you want, if you don't have a receipt you can forget it.

In fact, when i purchase something under 10 euro's i usually don't want the receipt because of "caveat emptor" - something that cheap usually breaks within a year. Earbuds are the most common occurence of this. And i've had the cashier tell me that i should take the receipt because i'd need it for returns and it even functioned as the guarrantee licence so they insisted i'd take it.

So returning anything without a receipt is a bit strange to me...

RE: Target
By WoWCow on 8/13/2013 11:26:12 AM , Rating: 2
Yep, it's real.

When I worked at Target I've had team members at Guest service tell me stories of all the fraudsters that come in doing the exact same thing. (Cartloads of Baby stuff and laundry detergents).

You also typically see those thieves in action after a major shopping holiday (Black Fridays, Christmas, Back to school laptops etc.).

Heck, I've even overheard ETLs ask Asset protection to track repeat offenders on camera to gather more evidence to build a case against them.

If the problems persist, they contact corporate and corporate may employ private investigators to continue monitoring the store site.

RE: Target
By Iaiken on 8/13/2013 12:26:01 PM , Rating: 1
Cartloads of Baby stuff laundry detergents

This is often used to launder drug money and there are numerous cases of truckloads of tide being used to pay for drug shipments.

RE: Target
By Just Tom on 8/18/2013 9:18:46 AM , Rating: 2
You realize this would not actually launder any money, the source of the money would still be dirty and exchanging purchases for store credit or cash would not disguise its origins.

RE: Target
By AntiM on 8/13/2013 11:37:01 AM , Rating: 4
People can be such a-holes. I don't blame these retailers for implementing some type of system to prevent fraud. You try to be nice and look what happens, some a-hole always takes advantage.

RE: Target
By chmilz on 8/13/2013 3:27:57 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. I recently was in between jobs, and my future employer needed me to print/sign/scan/email some stuff. Now, as a home-office based employee where both my previous and future employer supplied a printer, I did not have one, but didn't want to buy one.

So of course, off to Staples I go. Bought one, used it for a few weeks to get my affairs in order, returned it.

I know for a fact they have an agreement with the vendor so it doesn't cost Staples anything other than time, but this is exactly the kind of behavior retailers need to be protected against.

RE: Target
By flyingpants1 on 8/13/2013 5:49:44 PM , Rating: 2
Did you mean your behaviour?

RE: Target
By Mr Perfect on 8/13/2013 6:32:46 PM , Rating: 2
Of course that what he meant. He just temporarily used the "U" and returned it for store credit.

RE: Target
By 440sixpack on 8/13/2013 1:41:23 PM , Rating: 2
Good god, what level of manager makes 200k a year at Target? Some sort of district level at least I'd guess? If it's store manager I may need to reinvent my career. :-)

RE: Target
By Totally on 8/13/2013 11:46:08 PM , Rating: 2
no, store managers for large retailers make close to that their base pay is crap, but when bonuses and other incentives are added on it quickly balloons to somewhere in that neighborhood.

RE: Target
By MrBlastman on 8/14/2013 3:24:01 PM , Rating: 2
Not only is it true for returns but once upon a time, purchases too.

Years ago when I was in college... okay, decades ago, I knew a kid in our dorm that would go into Comp USA and swap around stickers on boxes/packages/product from a lower priced item to a higher priced one. He'd then walk up to the register and pay ten bucks for something that was worth a few hundred or more dollars. It was unbelievable.

If I had to guess the guy probably wound up in prison at one point. I have no idea, lost track of him but it pissed me off to see him get away with that crap.

Drawing the Lines
By Ristogod on 8/13/2013 11:40:59 AM , Rating: 2
It doesn't seem people understand where to draw the lines on privacy. If a store keeps information to protect itself, thereby keeping its services available to anyone who uses it legitimately, then they should be able to do so. They must make a profit to continue their business.

If the government keeps information along the same lines, then there is some concern for question concerning privacy. After all, the government does not need to turn a profit to remain the government. They can continue offering their services (or oppressions) along the same means they always have, robbing it from their constituency.

RE: Drawing the Lines
By ven1ger on 8/13/2013 2:08:58 PM , Rating: 2
How do you insure that no one else will see the information that is collected. Whether it is the government or some business, they all face the same problems with unscrupulous employees or if that information falls into the wrong hands.

For any business that keeps information on individuals, just remember that businesses fail or get bought out, when said business is then own by some other third party, how do you insure that your personal information does not get used the way it wasn't intended?

It is understandable that businesses need to protect themselves from fraudsters but if they hadn't instituted such flexible policies in the first place then they wouldn't need to obtain information on people, they should just fix the policies the have on returns with requiring a receipt or whatever policies they have in place that makes it so easy to defraud the business.

RE: Drawing the Lines
By Reclaimer77 on 8/13/2013 2:32:32 PM , Rating: 2
I'm with the OP. Having trouble seeing how this is a privacy issue.

Since when were your retail purchases private in the first place? Do you walk in wearing a disguise and only pay cash every time you shop?

RE: Drawing the Lines
By ven1ger on 8/13/2013 4:31:32 PM , Rating: 2
The only problem with this is that it isn't just the retailer and/or financial company that you're sharing your information with. This is with another party that is utilizing information based upon your shopping, whether it is limited only to returns is anyone's guess.

One of the problems I have with this sort of thing, is that we try very hard to not get spammed or be victims of identity theft, but the more our information gets spread around without our knowing about it or having any control over it, the more difficult it is to keep from being victimized by unscrupulous companies or individuals.

I don't have a problem with this...
By SAN-Man on 8/13/2013 12:18:32 PM , Rating: 4
I rarely return anything. In fact I can't rememnber the last time I did.

I'm also not an impulse shopper. I can't believe the amount of people who go and buy things simply on a whim and decide a day later they don't need them.

Then you have the "upgraders" who go out and buy an iPhone 5000 only to find out next week the iPhone 5001 is out so they go to the store and return their purchase.

Not to mention the @ssholes who buy a floor jack, chain saw or big screen TV, use it for the weekend and then return it. I have no problem with the owners of a private business recording WHO does this and how often in an effort to AVOID them.

People suck - they drive up prices for everyone else. It's shameful and dishonest.

Unless the product is defective ALL SALES ARE FINAL.

RE: I don't have a problem with this...
By Nagorak on 8/14/2013 7:55:03 AM , Rating: 2
I think that's a pretty foolish viewpoint. The ability to return items is actually a major selling point for a retailer. I absolutely consider it a plus that if I go into Home Depot, I can, for example, buy several PVC pipe fittings, and know that if I don't use one, I can return it. If they had a policy of all purchases being final, then I guess Lowe's would get a lot more of my business.

I agree that in general you shouldn't return items you used, but it's not a black and white thing either. What if you buy a chainsaw and when you go to use it you find out that it doesn't work well, or has poor build quality? Yes, some people abuse this sort of thing, but there are legitimate situations where you may dissatisfied with a tool you purchase.

But, I'm fine with them keeping track of who returns things, too. That doesn't concern me at all.

By SAN-Man on 8/15/2013 12:19:15 PM , Rating: 2
I think that's a pretty foolish viewpoint.

*Reads the rest of Nagorak's post*


Oh the ironing.

A few bad apples...
By observist on 8/13/2013 11:00:51 AM , Rating: 3
I work for a big-box retailer that uses this system. It was implemented in response to rampant abuse of a more lenient return policy. People would shoplift items from the store, then return them for cash on a daily basis. Other people running small businesses would buy thousands of dollars worth of merchandise to show their clients a selection, then return 95% of what they bought. Like so many things, there's 3% of the population that makes this sort of thing necessary. The data collected by the return system stays within the company and is not even shared with marketing. The drivers license is just used as a consistent ID number and nothing else.

RE: A few bad apples...
By Nagorak on 8/14/2013 7:47:18 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure what's wrong with small businesses buying merchandise and returning it as long as it's new and in resalable condition. The issue is when you buy something and return it for more than you paid for it.

Sometimes you buy something and it turns out it's the wrong thing, or not something you need. It's part of doing business to some extent. Assuming you return it within a reasonable amount of time, it shouldn't really impact the retailer that much, it just goes back on the shelf.

It's a different story if you buy something and use it and then return it. Although, I would say that there should be exceptions in cases where you are very unsatisfied with the product, in which case the store should be willing to stand behind it. I would think twice about doing business with any retailer where you buy something and then you're SOL if it doesn't work right, or it simply will not work for your purposes. There's only so much you can tell from looking at the outside of a cardboard box, or even reading reviews.

RE: A few bad apples...
By Nagorak on 8/14/2013 7:57:04 AM , Rating: 2
Also, don't forget that the retailer is still getting the money from the 5% that isn't returned (if the 95% figure isn't an exaggeration). So, the ability to return the items is just a service they are providing someone who is giving them real business.

Not new
By Obujuwami on 8/13/2013 11:44:09 AM , Rating: 3
This isn't new, I used to work at a hardware store 10 years ago that tracked returns in the system. If you returned too many things with out a receipt, or hit a dollar amount, you were barred from returning items anymore. I actually watched as a lady who grabbed a rather expensive item ($100) and walked up to the return desk to return it without a receipt. The manager was called up, who informed her that she was flagged in the system and not allowed to return items anymore...or come back for that matter.

So it's not new, but it is a big problem.

RE: Not new
By inperfectdarkness on 8/13/2013 3:13:10 PM , Rating: 2
This. It's been going on for years. Once stores started taking your personal data just to process a return--that's when it all started. Dunno why this is news now.

ID theft possbility
By wallijonn on 8/13/2013 1:47:30 PM , Rating: 2
the retailer scans a form of ID (such as a driver's license) and the customer's personal information -- along with the details of the return -- are sent to The Retail Equation.

If my driver's license ID number is being transmitted to a third party then I consider that unacceptable. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that some RE employee is stealing IDs (ID theft).

RE: ID theft possbility
By imaheadcase on 8/14/2013 9:03:08 AM , Rating: 2
I don't know about other retailers, but walmart only does the license number. They don't have access to anything other than that. Unless they have some agreement with the DMV to give the rest, but that is legal grounds fishy.

But I don't see a problem, no different than a cashier asking to see ID.

never return things
By valkator on 8/13/2013 3:44:46 PM , Rating: 2
I am proud to say I have never returned anything to a store.

I hate it when people are serial return junkies. Buy things they don't need and return it later or buy more of something on purpose just to return your remaining crap. You people suck. Then when I go to buy something new that I need, the last one of those is on the shelf taped up and crappy looking being sold as new.

I know someone that bought 4 pairs of pants, didn't try them on at the store, but only wanted 3. Bought 4 to help guarantee that 3 would fit and return the 4th one. Lame -_-

RE: never return things
By Nagorak on 8/14/2013 8:01:57 AM , Rating: 2
Oh my god, no! Someone returned a pair of pants! Were the pants ruined by the fact they tried them on and they didn't fit? Were the pants really any worse off for being tried on at home, rather than in the changing room? Of course, not. It made no difference at all.

If you really see something wrong with buying four pairs of pants and returning one then you have some issues. Not to mention keeping track of people who return things wouldn't stop someone from doing that. That's completely legitimate.

By knightmike on 8/13/2013 11:43:51 AM , Rating: 3
I don't have a problem with this. Many stores in America have a great return policy. If they have to put a system in place to prevent abuse, that's fine by me.

In the Philippines, you test the product at the store to make sure it works. You buy it. You keep it. Americans are fortunate to have return policies like Walmart's.

Doesn't bother me....
By rdhood on 8/13/2013 1:52:10 PM , Rating: 2
Usually with these types of things, I am mad as hell. But in this case... it doesn't bother me. The only way this is going to hurt you is if you are doing something illegal. The only time I return things is when they need to be returned... no hanky panky involved.

I might be mad if I had to return a super-personal item and the store sent my info to a third party. Even then, I am not sure what kind of embarrassing item that might be or how it would ever be used against me...

By DocScience on 8/13/2013 7:07:14 PM , Rating: 2
We all know these people.
The guy who buys a riding mower in June and returns it used and dirty to Sears at the end of summer.

The people who buy a big screen TV for the superbowl and return it February.

The women who buy clothes only to return them later after a party or out of season.

They DESERVE to be singled out and stopped.

It's not about privacy
By evo slevven on 8/14/2013 2:58:04 AM , Rating: 2
It's really about individuals who over react and fail to actually recognize a situation for what it is. Track my id for returns? Not like I'm worried. But I've been on both ends in seeing sh*t go bad as well; person pissed he can't return a computer he dropped [really? I should be yelling at you for wasting my time for having to wait to checkout] and then, on the other end, for being yelled at for refusing a refund from 2009....we're only in 2013 so yea!

I have to say that saying about a few apples ruining the bunch is true. While I love Amazon I also love mom and pop shops and have to admit with the theft, complaints and problems they face, even brick and mortar shops need some love. I'd rather not have to grow old choosing between amazon and walmart, that would seriously suck!

By imaheadcase on 8/14/2013 9:00:26 AM , Rating: 2
So many people come in store and whine about not having enough gas money and try to return stuff, stuff that is clearly been used for months.

I wish stores would ban customers out right who repeat offenders. These freeloaders of society spend all day trying to work the system all the time.

But yah, this is not news, this has been going on for at least 10 years in my store. Its not like they are getting all the drivers license info, just the number. No different if a cashier asks to see ID for buying booze.

Makes sense...
By Apone on 8/14/2013 2:56:36 PM , Rating: 2
I think this is a good idea because having worked part-time customer service at Best Buy back in college (during the good old pre-Geek Squad days), I remember the problem was pretty bad then.

What made it worse was that there was a Wal-Mart right next door to us and customers would whine via the following argument: "Well, I know I don't have a receipt but Wal-Mart will take it back no questions asked!"

My initial mental reaction to that was always "Well, we're not Wal-Mart. Go return it to them then..."

It also still puzzles me how customers have the nerve to play stupid about now knowing the return policy when it's splattered (and repeats) all over the back of their receipt and there's even a huge wall both at the cashier lanes (and customer service area) clearly showing the terms and conditions.

By samuel1c.handel on 8/13/13, Rating: 0
"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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