Magazine article Security Management

Checking out with Charge Cards?

Magazine article Security Management

Checking out with Charge Cards?

Article excerpt

YOU'VE FINALLY MADE IT TO THE cash register in a crowded department store. As you ask if you can pay by check, you hear sighs and rustling behind you as people shift their purchases in their arms. You try to ignore the eyes boring holes in your back as the salesperson copies your license and charge card numbers onto your check. Finally, you're free to go.

Although the origin of the practice is obscure, most retail businesses require customers who write checks to produce two forms of identification. The first is a form of positive identification-usually a valid driver's license with a picture and an address that matches the address on the customer's check. The second most preferred identification is a national bankcard or charge card. Also acceptable are local or regional department store charge cards, preferably in the customer's name.

Most customers have their driver's license number printed on their checks. Once a check is presented for approval, a salesperson has to match the address on the license with the address on the check and verify the driver's license number and expiration date. An expired license is not positive identification. Some retailers also require that the customer's date of birth be copied onto the check. When all is in order, the customer's license is returned.

Next, the salesperson copies the type of charge card and its account number onto the face of the check. Theoretically, that practice serves two purposes: It encourages the salesperson to examine the check for accuracy, and it allows the store to assume that a person who possesses a charge card is likely to write a valid check.

That assumption can be traced back to the early days of charge card history when a customer had to maintain an excellent credit rating to qualify for a charge card. That is certainly not the case today. Almost anyone-even a person with a known bad credit rating-can obtain virtually unlimited credit. In fact, neither of the assumptions stated earlier is now likely to prove empirically valid.

First, salespersons often overlook customer check errors. Whether most errors are deliberate or accidental is questionable but irrelevant because discovering any errors is the salesperson's responsibility. A second form of identification is not likely to improve the chances of discovering check errors.

Second, all charge cards are generic for identification purposes, except the American Express card. Spouses carry and use cards issued in each other's names, children frequently use a parent's card, and cards are often loaned to others for shopping excursions. Some customers carry stolen or canceled charge cards for the sole purpose of check-cashing identification.

More often than not, a customer writing a check does not own the charge card presented as a second form of identification. That is, he or she cannot be held responsible for payment if the card goes into collection. Therefore, no inference should be drawn about whether the check writer has an acceptable credit rating or is writing a valid check.

NATIONAL BANKCARD COMPANIES have begun to caution their customers against allowing retailers to copy account numbers indiscriminately. That measure is intended to prevent illegal use of card numbers obtained from checks and other documents. …

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