Chances are if you shop at a grocery store you have a rewards or loyalty card. These cards offer you special savings off sale items, points that can be redeemed for promotions and even savings at the gas pump. A simple swipe of the card loads your number into the register and allows you all those wonderful benefits of being “a member”. Have you ever stopped to think about where that information goes? Who has access to it? What it’s used for? Well, that question plagued me for the better part of two years; when I asked the grocery store manager some of those questions you would have thought I put a knife to his throat and FBI agents would be repelling from the ceiling. He looked at me, cocked his head to the side and said, “Why, exactly, do you want to know?”
Consumer privacy is a true oxymoron, that goes double where reward and loyalty programs are concerned. You can have an ultra paranoid person that guards every facet of her or her privacy, refuses to shop online, won’t talk to telemarketers and doesn’t belong to any mailing list freely give out their information to save a few dollars at the grocery store. If stores were able to tell you, without a doubt, that your information was safe then it wouldn’t be an issue but with all the recent cyber crimes and thefts, something somewhere needs to change.
One organization that speaks out about grocery store privacy invasion is C.A.S.P.I.A.N, Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy And Numbering. This group was behind the now infamous “CVS Cyber Punch” that showed the website was flawed. A user could access to private information and purchase history by entering the reward card number, zip code and part of the card holders last name. Not exactly hard information to obtain when you consider it was printed on the receipt.
Some of the loyalty cards I have are Shop ‘N Save, Giant Eagle, CVS, Ralph’s, Safeway and Safeway. I knew when I signed up for these cards that my personal information might be shared with others so I limited what I filled out in regards to my birth date and home phone number. The pros of having a reward card, most of the time, outweigh the cons. My Giant Eagle card is linked to my checking account so I can cash checks at the store or write a check for purchases. It is also hooked up to their video game rentals department. The downside to all this is that if I lose that card or one of the key fobs, anyone can use it to redeem Fuel Perks (money off a gasoline purchase) or rent movies and never return them.
The root to reward and loyalty card criticism is pretty simple; how much information is enough? When you sign up for a card you are asked seemingly innocent questions; some are even so bold as to ask what your yearly income level is. When you swipe your card and make a purchase that information is stored in a computer; it can be accessed by employees and used by number crunchers to see what you have purchased, how often you purchase certain things and how much you are spending per trip. That might not seem like a big deal but it is, especially if you are like me and think everything is a conspiracy.