On being asked to record identifying information yourself, or asking someone else to, without verification, for security purposes...

For example, being asked to write your own driver's license number on a check you're writing, without the cashier asking to actually see your license. You've probably had this happen to you, if you've ever ordered a pizza, or written a check at a store.

The purpose seems to be for the business to be able to track you down (possibly through civil or criminal court) if your check fails to clear -- or, for other transactions, if something goes amiss.

Note, however, that if you, as a business person, ask your customer to record their own information without verifying it yourself, you allow them to knowingly (and easily) give you completely false data. So, if someone is actually trying to actively defraud you, this may be an ineffective security proceedure.

I have three theories as to what causes people to implement this policy:

  • People decide they need to keep personally identifying information, and take this approach because they believe it will be effective. This seems unlikely, since cursory thought makes it clear that a fraudster can write down whatever number, name, or address he wishes.
  • Clerks are required by policy to ask for identifying information, but are embarassed to actually ask, for example, to see the bearer's driver's license, so instead they just ask them to write down the number. They don't care if it's fraudulent or not, as long as their supervisor sees a number. I noticed coworkers doing this while I worked at RadioShack, for this reason. This seems to be the most likely beginning of the idea.
  • People became used to being asked to record their own information because of the previous reason, and then assumed that it was an effective policy because other people were doing it. I consider this to be the most likely reason of all for this practice to be so widespread.

However, you may find that most bad checks are made by mistake. This was the case at RadioShack. Sometimes, bad checks are written when people are in denial about their account balance. My occasional overdrafts have been of this nature. In both of these cases, it seems safe to assume that most people will record accurate information. This might be a good tradeoff between no security, and losing business due to customers being irritated about having to flash id.

Consider messaging me with questions and comments.

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