Bamboozled April 14, 2016: Alternative can help keep your license private

If a scammer gets your private information, your credit could be in trouble. Your identity could be stolen.

We’re at the mercy of businesses and government agencies who already have our info, including birth dates, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and more. Hopefully, their systems will never be hacked.

But it happens.

That’s why we as consumers need to do whatever we can to keep our information private and out of the hands of those who don’t need it.

We’ve written about the issue before, when consumers were refused returns at stores because they wouldn’t allow the stores to scan their driver’s licenses.

Yes, many retailers track how many returns you make, and they will refuse to accept a return if they believe you’ve made too many of them.

Even some doctor’s offices insist on scanning a license, refusing service to patients who won’t comply.

What’s the big deal about sharing a driver’s license number?

It’s another piece of data a crook can use to steal your identity.

And it’s an important piece of data — now more than ever.

That’s because the IRS and state taxing authorities are requesting taxpayers give over license numbers when they file tax returns. The agencies want to use the license number as another way to prove identity and to protect taxpayers from tax refund fraud.

Driver's license? Meet my tax return

Tax agencies are looking to use your driver’s license to fight tax refund fraud.

Bamboozled reader Steve Gregory of Pitman wanted to share his strategy for keeping his driver’s license number private.

Gregory knows that retailers will require the scanning of a license when consumers make a return. He doesn’t want his license scanned, but he’s found an alternative form of ID that’s accepted by many retailers.

“Any time I participate in a scheme to put my driver’s license number ‘out there’ in any digital forum, especially the well-known risk of any retail store, I am participating in a scheme to facilitate the very real potential theft of my own identity,” Gregory said. “That is not a choice I willingly make.”

Instead, Gregory said, he presents the passport card.

Some retailers have accepted the card instead of a license, he said, and instead of scanning the card, the employee will key in the passport number to the store’s system.

“That’s okay with me because I’ve not (yet) heard of passport records being accessed to steal identities,” Gregory said.

But others have refused to accept the passport card, Gregory said, with employees telling him he needs to present “a photo ID that meets our approval.”

Toys

A customer is unhappy about having a driver’s license scanned to make a return.

We’re guessing the card isn’t accepted because the system some retailers use to track returns is probably through The Retail Equation (TRE), a company that tracks customer behavior for its clients.

TRE’s web site says nothing about passport cards.

GETTING A PASSPORT CARD

A passport card won’t be the answer every time, but it will help lots of customers to keep information private.

The card shows your name, date and place of birth and passport number.

If you already hold a valid passport, the cost is $30. If you’re a first-time applicant, the cost is $55. The card is valid for 10 years, and fits easily into a wallet because it’s the same size as a credit card.

There is a bar code on the back of the card, while a New Jersey license has two bar codes. One of the license bar codes contains the information found on the front of the card, the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) told us in the past. As for the second bar code? We don’t know because MVC refused to tell us.

back large.jpgThe back of a mock U.S. Passport Card.

So we wanted to know what information is stored on the passport card’s bar code.

None, actually.

Instead, the card has a vicinity-read radio frequency identification (RFID) chip.

“There is no personal information written to the RFID chip,” the State Department said. “This chip points to stored records in secure government databases.”

With the technology, Customs and Border Protection inspectors can access photographs and other biographical information, but the info isn’t actually on the chip. Instead, the chip tells them what separate and secure government databases should be checked for information on the cardholder.

So your private information lives on the separate databases and not on the card itself.

“Businesses can’t ‘scan’ the card and obtain any information,” a spokeswoman said. “The only information they would be able to see is that which is printed on the card.”

You can learn more about passport cards here.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller atBamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. FindBamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.

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