Our New Dryer and The Patriot Act

Our clothers dryer crapped out last week, and the washer’s not doing so well either. Repairs expensive, time to replace them both. Home Depot offering a honkin’ pile of rebates, and has the unit Consumer Reports likes. Once there, learned that if we open a Home Depot credit card, we could get an additional 10% off. No penalties, what’s not to like?

Read recently that financial institutions cannot legally require you to provide a social security number, so decided to see what would happen if I entered all zeroes in that field. The application was spit back in seconds. Explained my position to the employee, who rang up credit central at HD. The guy I talked to wasted no time in invoking … wait for it … The Patriot Act in defense of the requirement. He didn’t have specifics, but claimed that the act required them to store this information, and that a separate taxpayer ID would not suffice.

I was incredulous. Either Home Depot is hiding behind the war on terror for capitalistic reasons, or the Patriotic Act is more frightening than I thought. I suspected the latter, but realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere in this round, so, with a four-year-old growing quickly impatient, forked over my SS# and took the discount. Tonight did a bit of research and found this at askquestions.org:

If you’d just like to open a bank account or engage in another banking transaction, can a bank force you to provide your social security number? How about fingerprinting you? Are either of these strictly required by law? Not exactly – although if you do not wish to provide your social security number you will have to obtain an alternate taxpayer identification number.

So if their reading of the act is correct, Home Depot was not within their rights to require this information. A little late now, but am curious just how hard a person would have to fight to get Home Depot credit approval without a valid social.

Music: Nino Rota :: L’Harem

6 Replies to “Our New Dryer and The Patriot Act”

  1. Great field research, Scot. I am especially nervous about this nonsense as NYU used to use SS# as student IDs… totally ridiculous. People would be throwing the number around like candy, and they would give you a hard time if you would refuse, or only give them the last 4 digits. Then there was a massive leak of intramural sports registrations online and everyone’s name, address, phone, and SS# was public. The mind boggles. All it takes is one dumb, undercompensated employee. Note: Home Depot is full of those.

    I really enjoy that Terrorism is now the default explanation, too. Fantastic.

  2. Yeah, we’ve had similar issues. I’ve been bitten by minor identity theft more than once (from stolen checks to fraudulent $5/month charges to a $200 Western Union wire transfer), so I’m a bit leery. Jenni is near-fanatical about her privacy, and getting moreso as she gets older (and now that we’re parents).

    Most times, the “excuse” you receive is the end result of an unholy union: assumptions + “telephone”. New policy comes out. Manager is asked to justify, makes some assumption. Assumed justification meanders through employee base (telephone) until it gets to you.

    “I’m sorry, sir. The FBI and CIA have determined that Iran has been using the spinners in washers and dryers for as centrifuges for uranium enrichment. We need to track purchases, so your SSN is required.”

    *sigh*

  3. My guess is that HD needs your SSN in order to give you an INSTANT cc decision/discount.

    Not to defend HD hiding behind Patriot Act (as I’m a stubborn defender of privacy, and after all you weren’t buying fertilizer and kerosene) as I work in banking nowadays I know they need more than your name, address and proof that you produce cute offspring to let you take home the goods. Hence the awkward demand for SSN, so they could run your credit, asap.

    I dont know whether HD central credit actually need or believe they need your SSN in order to process any application, or if they use this ruse to lower the number of people who walk out they door without making a purchase. Even if you were allowed to provide an alternate ID, it would likely take several days to process the app, in which time you could experience a change of heart about your need for a new widget, or simply procure said widget elsewhere.

    The ironic thing is that even if you provide an alternate ID, I’m sure they’d run credit, and capture your SSN then. Well at least that way your SSN wouldn’t be on a piece of paper floating around a big box store where the employees might not appreciate privacy and security in the same way you and I do.

  4. Sounds like HD is hiding behind the act to make life easier for itself (what’s new?), but as you mentioned the act itself is pretty scary:

    The Wife works in the business office of a bookstore. She recently told me that they are now required to register all new hires and fires on a federal patriot act webpage. I’m incredulous, but she swears it’s true.

    Is this all to generate data to mine for terrorist activity? (You know how well that works). Are we closer to “Brazil” than we thought? The mind boggles. If I was younger and had more energy I’d try to organize resistance to this nonsense. Anyone remember spook fodder in emacs?

  5. > Once there, learned that if we open a Home Depot credit card, we could get an additional 10% off.

    So in essence, when you decline to apply for their credit card, that 10% is what they charge you for the privilege of not surrendering your proprietary and confidential financial information to them: a “privacy surcharge”, if you will. Only you can decide whether or not that’s worth paying.

    > The guy I talked to wasted no time in invoking … wait for it … The Patriot Act in defense of the requirement. He didn’t have specifics, but claimed that the act required them to store this information,

    If they don’t have specifics, then that forces the conclusion that their claim of legal compulsion is BS. The correct reply to any invocation of the USAPATRIOT Act (spell it right; it’s an acronym, and that way you don’t grant the premise of any other spelling) is, “Citation, please?”.

    Any entity that demands my SSN gets to bear the burden of proof of their legal authority to demand it. Any entity unable to meet that burden, but who then falls back on “Well, if we don’t get your SSN, then you don’t get X”, gets to bear the consequences of that choice. (Since I’m presumed to know the law, it is of course my burden to find out which entities may be given a fake SSN without legal consequences.)

    Mike: I’m incredulous too. I would be interested in any further information about this, e.g. a URL of the page and a copy of the written directive (if any) purporting to require such checking.

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