What to Do When Retailers Want Your Unlisted Number?

Image courtesy of

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.

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?

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.