What to Do When Retailers Want Your Unlisted Number?

This is exactly the sort of question we love being asked, despite the fact we don’t personally know the answer. We suspect one of you probably do.

Scott M. writes:

Aloha Consumerist.

Sometimes, for reasons of my own (okay, my credit card is maxed out, happy?), I like to write checks when paying for the fine goods at the local retail establishments. Invariably, every single establishment asks me for my phone number, since my phone number is not printed on my checks.

I have an unlisted phone number. I have an unlisted phone number for a reason.

I’ve tried to explain this to people at the shops. I’ve asked to speak with managers. They all reply in the same flaccid manner that they need my phone number. When asked why, no one can satisfactorily articulate a response.

Read about Lowe’s response when he poses the question to them, after the jump.

If my check bounces, neither the clerk nor the manager — indeed, _no one_ from the local establishment — is going to call me. The corporate office of the local establishment will contact my bank (with whom I am happy to share my phone number) to resolve the issue. My bank will then contact me.

What’s perhaps even more distressing is that when asked, no one is able to explain what they _do_ with my phone number. I’ve asked for, but never received, an official privacy policy with respect to the information I provide at checkout time. We take these privacy policies for granted online, but just try to acquire one at the store!

I sent an email to Lowes, the most recent abuser of my privacy, asking them for details. In three separate emails from them, I received nothing but “It is Lowes policy to ask for the phone number on the check for our protection as well as our customers protection.” After each canned response I asked “In what way does providing Lowes with my unlisted phone number protect me? In what way does providing my unlisted phone number protect Lowes?” These two questions were never answered; instead I was blessed with another helping of formulated response.

I’ve recently begun offering the number 555-1212 when asked for my phone number. A friend suggested that I provide the _store’s_ phone number, but that requires a bit more work on my part, and is less likely to fool the more astute clerks.

Are you, Consumerist, aware of any legitimate reasons for requiring a phone number when tendering a check for payment at the register? If not, what can a privacy-minded invidual do to thwart this sinister practice?


Edit Your Comment

  1. Josh says:

    Since they would ultimately contact your bank I would provide your bank’s phone number.

    Giving a wrong number “may” be considered check fraud (Pure Speculation)

    Does your bank have an answer at all or the BBB?

  2. Smoking Pope says:

    Hell, they used to ask for a credit card number before they’d take a check and scribble it down on the front for anyone to see. Compared to that, the unlisted number is harmless. Still…

    What I’d do is use this number: 382.5633. This spells out “F*ck Off” and will give you a happy glow inside when you give it out. I promise.

  3. DeeJayQueue says:

    It’s a weak response, but since i work in retail here it is:
    I’ve been told that the system some places use (Certegy) verifies your phone number as part of accepting the check. It will prompt the cashier for the info. If this is the case your check will decline if you give the wrong info.
    The place i currently work doesn’t ask for the phone # so i guess it doesn’t matter, but i’ve had places that when i look on the endorsement that prints, it actually prints the phone # on the back of the check too.

    I usually give people a flat “no” when they ask for info at the register if it’s unrelated to my method of payment.

    My other advice is that most banks will issue a check/debit card for free, most often with a visa or MC logo on it, that will work anywhere those cards are accepted. No questions asked and it comes right out of your account.

  4. Jenn Tex says:

    I always provide my fax number whenever any retailer asks for my phone number.

    If they choose to add me to a mailing list, they get the annoying beeps when they call and I hear nothing.

    When a retailer needs to reach me, they use the other methods I have already provided. For example, Travelocity needed to tell me something about a trip detail this summer. Since they couldn’t reach me by phone, they emailed me instead, which is what I prefer.

  5. Uglyshoe says:

    Where I work we take the drivers license number, that way we get picture I.D. and can match an address to what is on the check. I haven’t had anyone ever complain or refuse. Besides, Drivers license information is pubic record, easily found with a name or address.

  6. skippy says:

    If I had a fax number, I might provide that; but I don’t.

    Any recommendations on how one can still make a purchase with a check while refusing to provide a phone number? The management at retail stores are often blindly loyal to corporate policy, and no amount of logical explication seems to sway them.

  7. Peter Orosz says:

    What’s wrong with providing any random number? I do that all the time. Whenever I’m in a similar situation and sense that the information I give cannot be immediately verified, I just make things up. Fake name, ID number, tax number, address, phone, the works.

  8. The Cavalier says:

    Just give them the number ‘2’ and watch the confusion happen.

  9. Kat2 says:

    You can always do what a customer did to my fellow co-worker at Best Buy: say “867-5309.”


    /was only holiday help at BB at tech desk before they went Geek Squad

  10. Lifehacker readers have a lot to say about this, too.

  11. HINKShopper says:

    The bank’s phone number is already on the check, so I don’t understand why they need mine as well. Before the advent of debit cards they used to ask for a corrected address as well. Counter checks weren’t acceptable, but an incorrectly pre-printed one (that they manually corrected) was. Why? If they’re not going to call they’re certainly not going to visit.

    As for ZIP code, I assume retailers use it to determine distance shoppers have travelled to shop. It’s usually not the retailers that hawk purchase information – it’s the bank issuing the cards.