Radio Shack Employee Lies, Says Government Requires Your Name And Address To Use DTV Coupon

Tim tried to use a Digital TV coupon at a Philadelphia Radio Shack and was told that he had to provide his name and address in order to redeem it, as per government regulations. Strike out “government” and replace with “imaginary” and you’re closer to the truth. Hmm, did this Radio Shack employee just break the law?

Tim writes:

A Radio Shack clerk in Center City Philadelphia just told me it was a government rule that I had to give my name and address info to purchase a DTV analog converter box using one of the $40 coupons. I refused. Now that I’m back at my office, I can’t find anything on the net — neither about the rule, which I doubt exists, nor about Radio Shack’s obnoxious practice, complaints about which one would think would be all over the net. Can you or your commenters shed any light?

Our Consumer Reports DTV expert Paul Eng says, “There is no ‘federal requirement’ to collect such data when making a DTV box purchase.”

For the record, Tim, Radio Shack loves to data mine; it’s part of their business plan. This employee just decided it would be easier to blame the government for his employer’s poor policy. Feel free to use your DTV coupon anywhere you like without needing to give out your personal info.

Consumer Reports has an entire mini-site devoted to DTV issues at consumerreports.org/dtv.


Update: a former employee says that it was indeed required by the company the FTC contracted to handle the coupon program. We’re waiting to hear back from RadioShack and the FTC’s DTV site with an official clarification of some sort.

According to the FAQ on the government’s Retailer Support Center Website, retailers are not required to provide the name and addresses of consumers in order to redeem the coupons.

Question
What information must a retailer provide to get reimbursed for the converter box sales?
Answer
Retailers must provide a valid coupon, converter box UPC or SKU, and the retailers merchant ID.

The only instance in which it is appropriate to take down a consumer’s name and address is if the individual is redeeming multiple coupons for a business such as a nursing home, according to the November 2008 issue of the TV Converter Box Coupon Program Bulletin.

(Photo: ElvertBarnes)

Comments

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  1. dragonfire81 says:

    Yeah Radio Shack is one of those places that will always ask for your ZIP code when you check out. I’ve been told several times by employees that they cannot complete my transaction without this info, since their computer apparently will not let them.

    However, I thought I had a right to refuse providing such information if I do not wish to.

    • snowburnt says:

      @dragonfire81: I’d prefer to just taint their data by giving them the zip code for some place far away.

      • Raekwon says:

        @snowburnt: 90210 is my favorite fake zip :-) Oh TV what would we do without you.

      • Plates says:

        @snowburnt: That is always the best policy.
        Although I was in a Trader Joe’s once and they were asking for people’s zip codes so they could figure out where to put a new store.

        • jake.valentine says:

          @Plates:

          Normally I wouldn’t give my real zip to most crappy companies, but I am a huge Trader Joes fan and would probably not have a problem doing it for them. I only wish there were more really good companies like Trader Joes. They develop cult followings who are very devoted. In-N-Out in Cali/AZ/NV is a good example of that.

        • Anonymous says:

          @Plates: “Although I was in a Trader Joe’s once and they were asking for people’s zip codes so they could figure out where to put a new store. ”

          Trader Joe’s is about the only company that I wouldn’t care if I gave the zip to, they’re not going to sell my info or bombard me with junk.

        • Trick says:

          @Plates:

          Trader Joes asks for a zip to figure out where to put a new store?

          Well, that explains why there are 121 stores here in Beverly Hills. Right next to the Peach Pit and West Beverly, too!

      • Zclyh3 says:

        @snowburnt:

        We think alike. haha.

    • ViperBorg says:

      @dragonfire81: BULLCRAP! I used to work at RadioShack, I never asked for such info (as I wouldn’t want to give it out myself)… maybe that’s why I got fired? Anyway, that’s crap, they can enter 00000 and the computer will accept it. Their employees are just too lazy or inept.

      Glad I don’t work there anymore.

    • eelmonger says:

      @dragonfire81: You definitely have the right to not give them that information, but they also have the right to refuse service to you. I can understand concerns about address, phone number, etc. , but your zip code is fairly innocuous. Also, as the above poster mentioned, they use these zip codes in a way that benefits consumers: deciding where to put new stores. So really, by providing fake information you’re hurting everyone, including yourself.

      • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

        @eelmonger: Uh, hurting “everyone including yourself” by refusing to help Radio Shack figure out where to focus their next marketing effort or open a new store? How does that follow, exactly? (Hint: It doesn’t.)

        • eelmonger says:

          @speedwell, avatar of snark: It’s pretty easy: if you give them your zip code they might open up a new store closer to you, saving you time and gas for your next Radioshack trip. If you give them fake info they’ll either go with it and open up stores that won’t help them or have to other other methods to determine the best location for the next store, both of which costs them money and drives prices up.

    • Papercutninja says:

      @dragonfire81: I used to work in retail as well, for a clothing store. Every couple of quarters, Corporate would mandate us to capture the zip codes for all of our customers. I’d ask a couple and then after the 7th time someone asked me what we needed it for, i would just enter the zip code of the store. Easy as pie.

    • LucyTuzy says:

      @dragonfire81: I was returning an ugly nightgown I received as a present from Victoria’s Secret and they forced me to give them my name and address. It was totally legit, I had a receipt and it was only purchased the day before. I said I didn’t want to give out my personal information and they said they had to have it for their reconciliation purposes. Wouldn’t do the return without it. I just gave them fake info, but have been fuming about it ever since. I could see if I were a repeat return offender, but I never buy anything from them. And will definitely continue to do so.

      • Ananelle says:

        @LucyTuzy:
        How could they know if you were a repeat return offender without any information?

      • Wombatish says:

        @LucyTuzy: Depending on what method of payment you were using, sometimes a street address is actually required.

        They’re basically asking for the billing address of the card you used to make the purchase.

        And if you’re getting cash back in certain situations (no receipt in some places, out of return period returns in others), the transaction is treated differently (more like a sale -back- to the store) and then they do have to take down your information (and often ask for ID) to ensure merchandise isn’t stolen. The transactions are treated more like a pawn…

        But yeah, in your case, that just seems like Victoria Secret policy.. probably want to send you catalogs and deter repeat returns.

      • Kristin Gaddie says:

        @LucyTuzy:

        It’s called loss prevention, sometimes employees “refund” items for personal profit. I used to work at a store with this policy. I don’t really agree with it, but it wasn’t like we were going to use your information for nefarious purposes. Although I suppose it may happen.

    • Julia789 says:

      @dragonfire81: If you don’t want to give it to them, and they can’t complete the transaction without entering one, just ask them to put in 99999.

      Personally, giving a zip code doesn’t bother me. Giving my street address to get on a mailing list really bugs me though!

  2. s25843 says:

    I have a Boat in Florida and bought some boxes at Brand Mart USA. They do require a name/address for the invoice.

  3. s25843 says:

    I should add, that for all ticket pulled purchases (where you go to the back room and pick somthing up) they require a name/address, not just for the DTV boxes.

    • ViperBorg says:

      @s25843: See above comment.
      That’s a commercial purchase. And your being invoiced, not paying upfront. That’s different.
      That’s why there are tickets. So they don’t give the item to the wrong person.

      See: Granger, Fastonal, MSC Industrial Supply, etc.

      Look up definition to: “Will Call”

  4. Plates says:

    Radio Shack always seems to want a name and address for everything. If you are paying cash, always give them a fake name and plausible sounding non-existent address something like:
    John Picard
    1701 E. 47th Street
    Apt. 4D
    New York, NY 10017

  5. dreamsneverend says:

    They always bug me about that crap at Rat Shack and I just politely told them to screw off. Sometimes they will ask for it for warranty purposes but I never go through the stores for that stuff anyway.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Direct from this RS employee: The only reason we need the name & address on this transaction, is that our POS (I mean that in both ways) requires this information when we adjust tax. Many states are offering to waive the sales tax on the DTV coupons, but since it varies by state, we have to manually adjust each DTV purchase with a coupon. This isn’t “data-mining” so much as a stupid technical limitation, as we need to keep records of tax adjustments in case of a state tax audit.

    Of course, I know this still wont placate most commenters; we are an evil corporation that loves stealing information and possibly eating babies.

  7. MrsLopsided says:

    Agreed that Radio Shack usually wants too much info but in this case Pennsylvania one of the states where DTV sales tax was incorrectly added. Radio Shack needs your name/address to send you a tax refund check.

    [i40.tinypic.com]

  8. menty666 says:

    Years ago I was at a conference and they had a motivational speaker who told of a similar tale at RS. He went to buy some batteries and the cashier refused to sell them without his phone number. The man asked why he needed it for batteries he was paying cash for and he said that’s just the way they do it, so that’s the way he has to do it.

    The moral was to think outside the box and question the why of things, but the ending was that the manager wound up involved and had the cashier simply enter the store’s number.

    I do remember that RS invited the speaker to come talk at one of their conferences recounting the story. I guess they didn’t learn anything.

    • Jeremy82465 says:

      @menty666:

      Just give one of your surrounding ext followed by 867-5309.

      See if they chuckle

      • Julia789 says:

        @Jeremy82465: I used to give that phone number out at bars sometimes, back in the single days, to annoying fellows that would not give up and take the hint. It was quite funny, my girlfriends and I would have a laugh. Somehow when you say it out loud with the local area code, they don’t notice.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Same thing happened to me! I bought my box at a Radio Shack in Minneapolis, and was asked for my address “for the coupon.” It was the end of a long day, so I gave it, even though I knew better, and yeah… fast forward to receipt of dumb Radio Shack ads in my mailbox. Argh.

  10. Jaynor says:

    Four words:
    Unauthorized Practice Of Law

    Unless the radio shack employee was authorized to practice law in that state… in which case the economy is even worse than I feared.

    • Wit says:

      @Jaynor: I can’t see that one flying. He’s not saying that he’s an attorney, nor is he giving legal advice. He’s just attempting to claim that the government is making him do something that it is not.

  11. craptastico says:

    Radioshack it the worst. between the inquisition you get when you buy something, and the constant up selling you endure, there’s no store that treats their customers like a numbered commodity better than Radioshack.

  12. coren says:

    The real question is, did the employee know better or was he told by a manager?

  13. TCinIowa says:

    How is Radio Shack even in business anymore?

    Between the nightmare stories about poor customer service and dying off of the greatest generation how are they able to operate?

    • Rhayader says:

      @TCinIowa: Not to mention the fact that they carry almost nothing of value in their stores. Pretty much every single thing they sell is available at other stores for less. And when you talk about buying online, there is just no contest.

    • larrymac808 says:

      @TCinIowa: My last two RS purchases went extremely well. I got a not actually Gorilla-brand Gorillapod for $15, less than half what ThinkGeek wants for the branded version. I paid and left, no inquisition. When my old cellphone died, I found a decent replacement deal at RS, but since the store I was at was out of stock on the model I wanted, one of the workers actually drove to another store to pick one up for me. In the meantime, they’d gotten the ESN so I was able to get most of the paperwork complete by the time she came back.

    • morgasco says:

      @TCinIowa: Wasn’t there a comedy sketch about this, how it’s really a government spy front or the such? I’m not sure either, since every time I’ve been to a Radio Shack the employees outnumber customers 3 to 1, and it’s only a must need to go to place if you’re looking for electrical components for your kids project.

  14. RobGinNC says:

    I had the same experience with a RadioShack in Cary, NC last fall. The clerk told me they had to have my info for the government. I told them they were wrong. Eventually, the manager came out and repeated the same story, that they had to get my information. I left and used my coupon elsewhere.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I use to work at a radioshack during the fall and I remember saying this to everyone that complained. I don’t’ know if was in a company newsletter or anything but I hated how I was practically lying to every customer that came in because I knew it couldn’t be true.

    Also the fact that they attack you when you walk in, is more mandatory than showing up on time. I was yelled at for the first 4 weeks because I didn’t like acting like everyone was special needs and couldn’t find anything themselves.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I used to work at Radio Shack about 5 years ago. Back then they had a policy of asking all customers for their name and address whenever making a purchase. Records were kept on what fraction of customers each employee got a name and address from, and we were judged on these statistics at our sales meetings.

    Management would also send ‘secret shoppers’ to the stores to make sure that people were really asking for names and addresses rather than just entering dummy data to keep their stats up. I know of one person who was fired at least in part because on a busy day he didn’t ask a secret shopper for her information.

    Radio shack is a real cesspool, I haven’t shopped there since quitting.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I work at a RadioShack currently. What we ask you for is *a* phone number. Doesn’t really matter to us the validity of the information, but we need the information. And yes we were *told* it was government-required. I know better as I am an avid reader, but I just work here. I work Miamisburg, OH store 01-4407.

  18. Rhayader says:

    Radio Shack once forced me to give my contact info when I returned a 10 dollar computer fan. I raised my eyebrows a bit when I was asked about it, and the cash register jockey immediately got really defensive and argumentative, which indicates she had been questioned about that policy before.

    I called their corporate CS line, and they fed me some crap about policy and such. It wasn’t worth the trouble to pursue it, but it sounded like they had all sorts of holes in their story.

  19. little_birdie says:

    When I purchased mine (online…Tiger Direct?) the site I bought from had a popup window after the transaction asking for the last 4 digits of my SSN. I ignored it of course and my converter box arrived with no problem, but what was that all about?

  20. Joeb5 says:

    give them 1060 west addison chicago illinois

  21. Anonymous says:

    Former RS employee here. I can’t speak as whether the govt. actually required the address or not, but that was the reason given in the training materials handed out when RS started getting the boxes. So it’s not like the employee was lying- they were just repeating what they were told by management.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I work at a Radio Shack in San Francisco and our computer will not let us complete the transaction without a name, address and phone number. We were never told whether this was required by the store or by the FCC. I just tell people to give me a name address and phone number ANY one they can think of. John Smith at 555 main st. anytown, usa is fine with me.

  23. Bog says:

    Give them this address. Is a real address. Not that you would EVER want to live there, as most who enter never leave.
    1313 N. 13th Ave, Walla Walla, Washington 99362.

  24. Anonymous says:

    My God, how pathetic most of you are. What an indignity; Radio Shack asked you for data and you actually had to open your mouth and say, “NO”.

    Merciful heaven, what is this world coming to? I foresee the end of western civilization occurring at a local RS.

    If this is the worst thing you can complain about it, you are not even on the same page as a real life in the real world.

    • RedSonSuperDave says:

      @BowenVeto: Just because there’s worse things to worry about doesn’t mean we can’t worry about the little things too. Nobody has said this is the worst of anything. And the problem is NOT that we have to say “no”, the problem is Radio Shack’s widespread policy of LYING to their customers and saying that it’s the government that’s making them do it, when it’s really just asinine store policy. Maybe you’re on the wrong site.

  25. cuchanu says:

    I used to work at Radioshack (don’t tell anyone). When I first started, we had to ask for people’s name and address, even for a $0.99 fuse purchase. I asked people for my first few days, about half got upset. Finally I told the manager, “I’m not doing this anymore.” He replied, “You have no choice.” Lucky for me he was always doing “paperwork” in the back so he was never there when I didn’t ask. But they printed out a sheet of paper and if you had less than, I think, 50% success in getting the info they would chew you out. Thank God, a month after I started they said, “Due to customer feedback we will be discontinuing” the practice. It only took them about 10 years to figure out it pissed people off.

  26. Silversmok3 says:

    Name and adresses are required in cases where Radioshack grants store credit OR cash/charge refunds to the customer, this way if any issues/problems come up the associate/manager can pull up the ticket for reference.

    Its also used to store the ticket for review by upper management for sales tracking and LP review, this way a floor associate cant just cheat the company out of $40.00 by swiping his library card or someone else’s coupon-and if it does happen, theres documentation to straighten the mess out.

    AS far as fliers/info sales are concerned, ive not had anyone storm into the store demanding off the mailer list, so that’s probably not the main reason.

    Of course, Radioshack wont be in a hurry to say as official rule that the only way tickets can be internally sorted is via name and adress, otherwise theyll be pressured to change it , and then $$ has to be spent on changing the software and retraining staff.

    So the company says nothing, and leaves it up the to the at-will associate to make up a reason ,as stated above.

  27. Michael Bauser says:

    If I was Tim, I would have pointed out (to the RadioShack cashier) that the government already knows my name and address because they mailed me the coupon.

  28. RedSonSuperDave says:

    Strangely enough, I’m banned from the Dothan Mall for life, after the Radio Shack employee, his manager, and the mall security guy he called insisted that it was “the law” that I couldn’t either leave the store (!) or pay for my headphones until “the transaction was completed” which involved me giving Radio Shack my phone number and address.

    If I knew then what I knew now (I didn’t read the Consumerist much back in 1999), I’d have called the police and pressed charges. Oh well, I got my six-dollar headphones and Radio Shack will never get my business again.

  29. fatcop says:

    I used to work at Radioshack in those years between high school and adulthood where I could get a real job (18-21).

    I used to HATE going through the inquisition of people for some stupid batteries or a cable connector.

    A few months before I turned 21, I quit due to some unfair labor practices and just rode unemployment on their dime.

    I look for them to be the next one to go down the tubes. I checked their site out and they don’t even sell radios for christs sake!

  30. jamesdenver says:

    I never ever give me personal info, but I don’t mind giving a zip code. It simply tells the store where their customers are coming from.

    Unless I’m in rural Montana or Maine no one is going to figure out who I am based on a zip code.

    (or maybe I’m wrong…)

  31. the.girl.from.philly says:

    i know which radio shack they’re referring to, and i’ve had issues there.

    a few weeks ago, i stopped by to pick up a splitter for a digi video camera in advance of a shoot i was working on, and the guy who was helping me picked up the wrong splitter 4 times. each time, he’d go to the back of the store, grab what he thought was correct, then go to ring it up. but then a weird, kinda bitchy manager guy would yell at him, in a really demeaning way, that he’d picked the wrong device up. he talked to the guy like he was 5 years old.

    this was seriously repeated 4 times, ’til he finally got the right one.

    it was… weird. and disconcerting.

  32. Corporate-Shill says:

    So give them your OLD address.

    I remember the address from when I was 4. The housing development is now an entrance ramp to the expressway.

    I remember my address from college. That was a couple decades ago. Want that address?

    Want the address from my first apartment?

    How about the address from when I lived 1800 miles away?

    Or just give the clerk the Evil Eye until the clerk decides to enter his/her own address.

  33. Anonymous says:

    I redeemed two coupons this last weekend – one at Sears and one at Best Buy. Neither retailer asked me for name and address. Of course, Best Buy could get that from my Best Buy reward card and Best Buy credit card. But I did pay cash at Sears, and they did not ask for any info.

  34. Meathamper says:

    I’ll bet they even want my birth certificate, my high school report card, my college diploma, and even my financial statements.

  35. parad0x360 says:

    I am inspired to make multiple small purchases at RadioShack just so i can big them everytime they ask for my info.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I happen to be an employee of Radioshack and I have been guilty of saying the same thing only because I thought it was required. When I sell a converter box and the customer uses a $40 coupon, the register will require that a customer is assigned to the sale. This led me to believe that acquiring the customer’s information was for the authorization of the coupon. So this might not have been the employee “blaming” the government.

    It does however depend on the type of person I guess…

  37. Anonymous says:

    I too work at a Rat Shack and we were indeed told that they are necessary. The only things we need real addresses for is those coupons and warranties, and returns (this is for fraud protection). Even on Tax holidays, if people didn’t want to give an address, we will use the store’s instead, since the computer won’t let us complete a tax adjust without one. Above all we want to sell to customers and make them happy so they come back. I’ve heard of years ago the demanding of the address for every chickenshit purchase, but in my store we never do it for that. On the other hand, as said here before, SIGN YOUR DAMN CHARGE CARDS!

  38. DuncanPheasant says:

    i currently work at radioshack in california and the pos will not let us authorize the coupon without a name and address, don’t blame us, there’s nothing we can do about it. and when we do ask for your info for a warranty, it’s because no one ever keeps the recipet and we cant help you without it, other than that if they ask you for your info on any normal purchases, its that individual store’s doing, not the entire corporation. i never ask for anyones info, its annoying for me too. and as for customer service, we actually try because we get paid on commission, yeah there are some employees who don’t give a care but that still doesn’t give you the right to generalize the whole company. and if you’ve ever worked in retail you would not be complaining, you would be complaining about how customers are total a-holes half the time, which they totally are.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I also work at RadioShack. I took this question to my manager, who also repeated the line about the gov’t. requiring this info. I don’t know if that’s the case, but that’s what HE was told by upper management.

    More likely, it’s the idiots in corporate that decided this was a prime opportunity to collect people’s data.

    Either way, it’s true – we have no way of processing the transaction without putting in some sort of name, address, and phone number. Please don’t bitch out the employee, there’s nothing he can do about it.

  40. Anonymous says:

    I used to work for RS about 6 months ago and this employee isn’t a liar. He was told, just like everyone else in RS by corporate, that they needed the name and address. I always told the Customer that the system won’t continue without one and if they really don’t want to give it out I usually either ask them for a fake name and address or just put one in myself.

    And for the record, RS employees usually hate RS more than consumers.

  41. Anonymous says:

    The Radio Shack at the midtown Bus Terminal in NYC says that the government requires people purchasing DTV converter boxes to provide their phone number. After I challenged the salesrep on this he admitted it was store policy. I asked if there was anyone who could change the policy and he said no. I walked.

  42. David Hogan says:

    I am a manager at a Radioshack in KY and we are required to take phone number,adress,and name with DTV coupon purchases. The POS will NOT allow tender without this info when given a government coupon.