Monthly Archives: October 2009

Target Stores – An Identity Thief’s Best Friend ?

Is Target Stores, Inc. targeting your sensitive personal data ?  (image from angrywhiteboy.com)

Is Target Corporation targeting your personal data ? Will a data breach make you a victim of identity theft ? (image linked from angrywhiteboy.org)

You might have found this article after asking…

Why did Target scan my drivers license, or

Why did Target swipe my drivers license, or

Is Target collecting personal information from my drivers license, or

What is the Target stores ID policy, and what if I refuse to give them my drivers license,  or

Did a jury award  South Carolina Target shopper Rita Cantrell $3.1 million in a libel case, after she was wrongly accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $100 bill at Target ?

Maybe Eric Arthur Blair was right (you’ll probably know who he was, even if you don’t recognize his name).

We very rarely shop at Target, but happened to find ourselves in a Target store recently.  While our order was being scanned at the register, even before we decided how we would pay, the cashier asked for our drivers license.  When asked why they needed to see our drivers license, they told us that it was because we were buying a package of over-the-counter cold medicine.  Since we are closer to retirement age than we are to the age of majority, we can’t remember the last time a clerk or cashier “proofed” us.  But since we want to do our part to make sure that no minors can get relief from their cold or flu symptoms, we graciously handed the cashier our license.  We quickly regretted complying with their request, when, to our horror, the cashier scanned the barcode on our license with their barcode reader, before we realized what they were doing, and before we had a chance to stop them.  It is worth noting that the last time I checked, this was still America, and there was absolutely no legal requirement for a retailer to scan or swipe your drivers license, or any other form of ID when purchasing medications, alcoholic beverages, etc.  Target appears to have adopted this misguided policy to protect themselves, and to possibly make their job easier (but at your expense).  What’s next ?  Scanning a barcode tattooed on your forehead by the State, or scanning you for the mandatory RFID chip implanted under your skin at birth ?

It seems to us that Target might be capturing at least some the information embedded in the barcode of your drivers license.  If not, then simply having the cashier confirm the date of birth printed on the license would suffice, and scanning the license would serve no purpose.   This makes us wonder what they might be doing with the data.  How long are they retaining the data ?  Do they sell the data, or use it for marketing purposes ?  Will they provide the data to the government, either voluntarily or in response to a subpoena or a National Security Letter ?

As (now very wealthy) South Carolina Target shopper Rita Cantrell can attest, Target can’t distinguish real currency from counterfeit.  Likewise,  we have little confidence that their employees, POS scanners or computer systems would be able to tell a fake drivers license barcode from the real thing.

Are you wondering what information Target (and other retailers) can capture from your drivers license barcode, in this post-9/11, “Homeland Security” driven world ?  The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (aamva.org) publishes the standards that the individual states follow when designing their drivers licenses.  This AAMVA document (in .PDF format) lists 22 mandatory and 23 optional data elements that are encoded into the PDF417 barcode that is used on U.S. drivers licenses.  Did you know that items such as a driver’s race/ethnic group and social security number can be embedded in the barcode ?   The individual states are free to add additional data elements that are not included in the AAMVA standard.

Sample License

We suspect that Target would be happy to sell cold medicine to this fellow, as long as he allows them to scan his drivers license.

Even if Target Stores does not have any ulterior motives, the fact that they are able to capture any or all of the data embedded in your drivers license barcode exposes their customers to the threat of identity theft.  The fact that their name is Target doesn’t help the situation either, if you catch our drift.  I mean, just look at their stores… they put a big red bulls eye right on the front of every store !  If that isn’t taunting all the hackers out there, I don’t know what is.   Maybe we would be less concerned if their name was “Fortress” or something along those lines, and their logo was a bank vault, rather than a bulls eye.  Even their cute mascot, Bullseye, looks like he would rather lick you to death than defend the company’s customer data.  Retailers, credit card companies, banks and other businesses are constantly making headlines because their networks are hacked into, their data stolen, and their customers or employees personal and financial information  compromised.  Sometimes it’s a hacker breaking into a computer network.  Sometimes, it’s a rogue employee inside a company or at a vendor that has access to a company’s systems.  Sometimes, it’s a laptop computer containing sensitive information that is lost or stolen.  Sometimes, backup tapes are lost in transit to an off-site storage location.  There are many ways that customer data can be put at risk of theft.

Now we’re wondering if we will pick up the newspaper one day, and see the headline “Target Stores Targeted By Hackers,  Personal Info From 50 Million Customers Stolen”.  Think it can’t happen ?  Think Again.  It has happened to other large retailers, banks and credit card companies.

How can consumers protect themselves ?  Well, it’s nearly impossible in the age of  The Internet and when “plastic” has largely supplanted the use of cash.  But nothing says that you have to shop at a retailer that unnecessarily places your personal information at risk, even if its only a potential risk.   We doubt that we will be shopping at Target stores again, but if we do, and we are asked for our drivers license in the future, we will refuse and walk out.  If collecting our personal data is more important to Target than keeping us as a customer, we will gladly take our business elsewhere, and patronize a business that does not unnecessarily expose us to the threat of identity theft.  Speaking of Target, we think that letting retailers scan and capture the data stored in your drivers license barcode is a lot like placing a bullseye on your back.

We are normally happy to accomodate a  merchant’s request to provide suitable ID, especially when the transaction involves payment by check or credit card, or we are returning an item, but Target’s policy is unacceptable, and we believe, simply wrong.  And we’re not the only one who feels this way.  This article at informationweek.com echoes our concerns about Target’s policy.  From a purely practical standpoint, we suspect that draconian policies such as the one put in place by Target will backfire, with (even more) people simply deciding to steal the medication.  OTC pharmacy items are already the most frequently shoplifted items (see this list of the 50 most frequently shoplifted items).   And isn’t it just a bit ludicrous (not to mention, rude) to ask a senior citizen buying cold medicine to prove they’re 18 years old ?

As far as we know,  Target customers concerned about identity theft can still do their shopping at Walmart without having to show them your drivers license when buying cold medications.  If you are very obviously over the age of 18, and asked for your drivers license at a Target store, we suggest that you decline.   If they persist, simply tell them that under the circumstances, you have changed your mind and don’t wish to purchase anything.  It won’t take Target very long to realize that their policy is costing them business, and that they need to change it.  They might not enjoy having to put all your stuff back on the shelves after you walk out without buying it, but at least your personal data will be safe.

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under 9/11, Business, Consumerism, Law Enforcement, Life, Money, Retail, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Shopping, Technology, Terrorism, Walmart, Your Money

The David Letterman Sextortion Scandal And Confession Has Damaged The CBS Network !

From Murrow To Mediocrity…

The Fall From Grace At CBS

The Ed Sullivan Theater (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City, home of the Late Show, where David Letterman delivered his mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, admitting to sexual indiscressions with staff members (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Legendary CBS broadcasting giants, including Edward R. MurrowWalter Cronkite and Ed Sullivan must be turning over in their graves as a result of their “Tiffany Network”, the Columbia Broadcasting System, having its image tarnished by scandal in recent years.  The latest (sex) scandal to hit CBS involves David Letterman, his staff, and a CBS Producer named Robert Halderman.

Executives at CBS must regret the day they lured David Letterman away from NBC.  And the venerable Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City, where CBS tapes the Letterman show, has been forever sullied by the scandal that hit the news Thursday.  CBS began broadcasting from CBS-TV “Studio 50” in 1936, and renamed it the Ed Sullivan Theater in 1967.  The Ed Sullivan show was broadcast from there during it’s 23-year run, from 1948 thru 1971.

In the 1970’s, about the time that David Letterman was a weatherman on an Indianapolis, Indiana television station, we were working for a company in New York City that sold equipment to broadcasters.  They did business with CBS, and on one occasion our work took us to the Ed Sullivan Theater.  We entered that building in awe.  We felt extremely privileged to be in that space, where some of the most historic broadcasts in the history of television originated from.  Today however, we would be embarrassed to be seen entering  the studio where the Beatles made their U.S. debut, and where virtually every notable performer or group from that era appeared,  many of them multiple times.

Ed Sullivan would cringe if he heard what David Letterman admitted to this past Thursday, while standing on the same stage that Sullivan’s shows were broadcast from.  Ed Sullivan was so squeaky clean that it was commonplace for him to ask performers to change objectionable lyrics in the songs they performed on the Ed Sullivan show.  Performers that refused to clean up their lyrics would not be broadcast, and those that reneged on their promise to sanitize their lyrics (remember that this was live television), were never invited back to the Ed Sullivan show again.

This past Thursday, in what can only be described as one of the most bizarre broadcasts of the Letterman show (or any television show, for that matter), Letterman delivered his mea culpa, admitting to his sexual indiscretions, to an audience of people who were laughing like hyenas.  Apparently, the audience didn’t know what to make of the confession, and assumed it was part of his comedy routine.  Here’s an article published by the New York Daily News on Friday, which identifies a woman who worked for David Letterman, who they believe is involved in the scandal.  In any case, Letterman’s broadcast confession certainly gives a whole new meaning to the term “Worldwide Pants”.  You can probably find the confession on YouTube and elsewhere, but we aren’t going to link to it, since it seems that CBS has been asking YouTube to pull any excerpts people have been posting from the show, due to copyright infringement, and, no doubt, severe embarrassment.  Ya know, maybe CBS should have never broadcast it in the first place.

In the 1970’s Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon had his infamous 18- minute gap on the White House tapes.  Similarly, in the Letterman scandal, CBS has redacted the ten-minute mea culpa segment of David Letterman’s monologue from the official copy that CBS posted on YouTube (read this NY Times article about the missing Letterman segment).

As an aside, we think it’s worth noting that technology like cellphones, digital cameras, the VCR, DVDs, computers, the Internet and websites like YouTube have a way of  changing the status quo, and making existing law moot in many cases.  As many individuals and corporations have learned over the last few years, it is largely an exercise in futility to try and have something that has been posted on the Web taken down.  The harder you try to quash something, whether a photo, a video, an MP3 file or a point of view, the faster it propagates.  Remove it from one website, and it springs up in 100 other places.  The battle to protect intellectual property (IP) has been made infinitely more difficult as technology has made it a trivial matter to make high quality copies of materials such as music, movies, photos, etc.  Two events in particular stick out in our mind;  The introduction of VCRs in the late 1970’s, which had the entertainment industry scared to death about illegal recording of television shows, and the advent of music sharing websites such as Napster.  Blogs, personal websites, and the fact that virtually everyone can now have a “printing press” in their home has changed the publishing and newspaper businesses forever.  Organizations have learned that a different mindset is necessary to survive.  If you can’t beat them, join them.  As an example of this consider the fact that every major U.S. daily newspaper that has managed to survive also has a website.  Newspapers have even begun scrapping their paper editions, becoming Internet-only news outlets, a la The Huffington Post (see this NYTimes article about The Seattle Post-Intelligencer going Internet-only).  But we digress.

If we were running CBS, the Letterman show would be pulled faster than you can say “Top Ten List”, but for financial reasons, we doubt CBS will pull the show.  Moral and ethical standards are simply not what they were when William S. Paley was running CBS.  Certainly not at CBS, and not anywhere else in broadcasting, or society in general.  If Letterman can continue to do well in the ratings, his job is probably secure.  But we expect to see CBS getting hit with lawsuits from Letterman staffers, who will say that his conduct created a hostile work environment.

And of course, the “Top Ten” lists have begun to appear on the Web, in response to the Letterman scandal.  A fellow WordPress blogger posted “The Top Ten Reasons Why David Letterman Should Be Fired”, while this conservative Christian website posted their own Top Ten list.

– Routing By Rumor

P.S. – According to this article at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, “From Murrow To Mediocrity” was the title of a scathing 1987 New York Times op-ed piece written by CBS newsman Dan Rather.

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Milking The Herd At T-Mobile

Cows - 600 x 456

T-Mobile is milking us dry, and that's no bull !

T-Mobile USA’s (aka Deutsche Telekom AG) catch phrase used to be “Get More”, before they dropped it (like so many dropped calls) for their “Stick Together” campaign.  Well, now it seems that their next advertising slogan might just be “Pay More”.

We know times are rough.  T-Mobile is probably hurting just as much as the rest of us.  Evidence the bad news they’ve included in customer’s bills over the last few months.  First, they made the decision to charge customers who wanted to continue to receive their call detail on each month’s bill.  I believe they are charging $3.00 a month for the privilege of seeing what they are charging you for.  Then they decided to charge an additional $1.50 a month for the privilege of getting a paper bill in the mail each month (isn’t it nice to know that T-Mobile is saving the lives of innocent trees).  After what must have been a torrent of subscriber defections to other carriers and complaints from customers who didn’t bolt, they dropped their plan to charge for paper bills (but they’re still charging customers who want to see the call detail on their bills).  Apparently, T-Mobile decided that trying to milk their customers with yet another new monthly charge was going to cost them more than they would have realized in additional income (see “T-Mobile Customers Demand Traditional Paper Bills” at dailyfinance.com).

T-Mobile’s latest bills have included a strangely vague warning to their customers that they may be paying more for minutes used beyond their calling plan’s allowance.  But they don’t tell you how much more they are charging per minute. If you are a T-Mobile subscriber, and you decide to dial 611 to ask them about the rate increase, better do it during the day.  T-Mobile used to provide customer service 24 hours a day, but now,  if you try calling T-Mobile at night, you’ll get an announcement telling you to call back during the day.  That brings to mind another possible advertising slogan T-Mobile might consider… “Pay More, Get Less”.

Why the lack of specifics regarding their rate increase ?  (they tell you to check out their website for details)  Well, it seems to us that T-Mobile, just in time for Halloween,  is trying to scare subscribers into moving to more expensive monthly plans.  Is it really necessary to raise what are already exhorbitant per-minute charges if you go over on your plan’s minute allotment.  We believe those per-minute charges were already in the range of 40 cents to 60 cents per minute, even before their recent increases.

Those folks at T-Mobile must also think their customers are a bunch of idiots.  Here’s how they broke the good news to customers, via an insert in their bills titled “An important message about your additional minutes”…

“T-Mobile is committed to providing you the coverage you need at the price you want.  Therefore, it’s important to tell you about a change to ensure you are on the plan that best meets your needs.  Starting on September 1st, the price for the minutes you use over the minutes included in your plan will increase for some rate plans.  Those rates apply to all additional minutes, including calls to voicemail and call forwarding.”


Don’t you love it how companies always begin their notices of price increases on an upbeat theme ?   How about leveling with the customer and starting off with something like “We have some bad news for our most loyal customers” ?

When we first spotted their billing insert, we thought that perhaps T-Mobile was increasing the number of minutes in their calling plans, or perhaps that they were lowering their charge for additional minutes.  Unfortunately, it was nothing or the sort, but it is certainly reassuring to know that T-Mobile is so concerned about us.  Why then all the secrecy ?  Why not just say how much they’re charging for additional minutes, right there on the billing insert ?  And the fact of the matter is that they can’t legally raise their rates without notifying their customers.  We guess that T-Mobile figures that this indirect method of notifying their customers of a rate increase fulfills their obligation to notify their customers.  How lame can you get ?

We wonder what little bit of good news T-Mobile might be planning to stuff into the envelope with your bill, next month.  How about charging a fee for speaking with a customer service rep, or charging you $1.00 every time you check how many minutes you have used up.  There’s probably dozens of ways they can come up with to squeeze more out of their customers every month.

Long time T-Mobile subscribers might remember the pre-T-Mobile days, and perhaps even the pre-Voicestream days.  The T-Mobile U.S. cellular network started it’s life as “Omnipoint”, circa 1996.  (Does anybody remember Fred, the Omnipoint parrot ?  See Fred in this Omnipoint TV Commercial on Youtube.)  One of Omnipoint’s selling points was “No Contract Required”.  As any T-Mobile customer can tell you, that is not the case with T-Mobile.  But for T-Mobile customers who have fulfilled their contract (and maybe even for those who haven’t), all of  T-Mobile’s recent attempts to nickel and dime their customers to death might signal that it is time to move your mobile number to a different network, one that is more customer-friendly, and one that gives it’s subscribers a little more credit for being able to see through a thinly veiled attempt to increase profits.  According to this article at cellphonesignal.com, T-Mobile’s decision to increase their per-minute overage charges means that subscribers who are under contract can opt to terminate their contract without incurring an early termination fee (ETF), which just may be the silver lining in this network’s cloud.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, when is T-Mobile going to bring back Jamie Lee Curtis as it’s spokesmodel ?

– Routing By Rumor

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