Are you Willing to Swap Convenience for Privacy?


Orchard Supply Hardware

An OSH Store

I am downright paranoid about privacy. Getting my Social Security number from me is less likely than a cow jumping over the moon. It amazes me how easily, even in this day of rampant identity theft, consumers are willing to turn over their personal information to any web site or merchant who asks for it.

Orchard Supply Hardware, commonly known as OSH, has 85-plus retail outlets in California. Their stores are smaller than big box stores like Lowe’s but considerably larger than the typical Ace or True Value location. Some years ago OSH became a subsidiary of Sears.

There is an OSH just three blocks from my house and I have often joked that if I had an employer I would ask for direct deposit, not to my credit union, but to OSH. I have bought everything from power tools to screws to plants at that store.

I recently returned a 2 ½ gallon jug of driveway cleaner to the store and was asked for my driver’s license. I showed the license, still in my wallet, to the staffer. “I’ll need you to take it out of the wallet,” she remarked.

            “Why?” I responded, as if I didn’t suspect what was coming, much to my chagrin (I brought my chagrin along on this trip as I always do. My chagrin hates to be left alone at home).

            “I need to run it.”

            “Gee,” I thought, “She’ll definitely win that race. My license has no legs.” But what I said out loud was, “No.”

            “Excuse me?” she interrogated.

            “If I let you enter the information on my driver’s license into your computer, it will go into a data base. There, anyone who works for your company can access all my personal information. And if a hacker gets into your system they (Ed. note: yeah, I know, bad grammar) can steal my identity.”

            “We use a company to maintain the database and it’s secure,” she politely retorted.

            “If the Pentagon can’t keep its data bases secure, and UCLA had 300,000 personal records hacked, I somehow believe that OSH’s database can be hacked into as well,” I rejoined, not that I ever joined anything to begin with.

            Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of this rest of this epic tale. Store policy: no refunds without driver’s license.

            “But California requires that all such restrictions be conspicuously posted near the cash register.”

            “But the new policy is on the back of the receipt.”

            “Did anyone point it out when I made the purchase?”

            Here comes the store manager.

            I explain my concerns, i.e., giving OSH my name, address, date of birth, driver’s license number, hair color, eye color, etc. And since you did not make me aware of the return conditions, you have to pay up.

            “May we at least copy down your license number?”

           “OK.”   Here’s the upshot. Most people I know say they would never hand over this info, but they don’t have the cojones to stick to their guns. Because I stick to my guns, I often complicate my life, like when my new dermatologist’s staff said they could not process my insurance claim without my SSN, even though my health insurer does not even want to know my SSN. So I had to seek reimbursement through a claim to my insurer, which claim they lost, then forgot to act on the second submission, then had to reimburse me through payment back to the doctor. And it took seven freakin’ months!           

         So I called OSH headquarters. Mind you, this is a company that was started in 1931 as an orchard farmers’ cooperative in the town of San Jose. San Jose is now America’s tenth largest city. Company headquarters is just a few miles from my home. I want to support a business that employs local people. And I expressed this desire to Barbara, the company customer service gal. Why, I wondered out loud, do I not need show my driver’s license when I use my credit card before walking out of the store with $200 worth of stuff, but I do need to have my personal information recorded when I ask that the return be credited back to the very same card?

            Barbara was flummoxed, if that means what I think it means. And when I told her that although I had shopped at this OSH hundreds, if not thousands, of times, I would not be likely to shop there again, until they dropped the driver’s license requirement. She said she would pass my concerns onto management. I’ll be writing more about that type of process in large corporations in an upcoming blog.

            So here I am, about to leave for The Home Depot to pick up a dishwasher discharge hose, lamenting my trial separation from OSH, the local company swallowed up by the big-name retailer; the company that was once my local hardware store and is now just hard.

            But I rest assured that my ID will not be stolen, at least not because of OSH’s unreasonable demands.

  • P.S.  – I am a commissioner on the all-volunteer Santa Clara County Advisory Commission on Consumer Affairs. I have just requested that this issue be placed on our next meeting agenda and that we ask the county board of supervisors to recommend to the state legislature (after all, what else does the State of California have to worry about?) that they outlaw this type of invasive refund requirement. So there.