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From the Editor

"Reward" Cards


By:  David Deschesne

Editor/Publisher, Fort Fairfield Journal, June 12, 2013

These days, supermarket and department store “Rewards” cards are ubiquitous (for you public school educated folks, “ubiquitous” means; “everywhere, or seeming to be everywhere at the same time”).

You might think you are getting a good deal when the store throws you a few percent off your bill, which is essentially table scraps. The only entity benefiting when you use a “Rewards” card is the corporation who issued it. Please allow me to explain.

Not so long ago, probably fifteen years or so, before computers became as prevalent in our society as they are today, there were no such thing as “Rewards” cards. Stores simply honored coupons and ran sales in order to entice people to purchase with them.

If the store or corporation wanted to know anything about the demographics of their customers, they had to hire a polling agency that specialized in market research. Things such as name, gender, age, address, buying habits and income were researched from the general public and gleaned out of those who chose to voluntarily answer the polling agent’s questions. Now, that cost the store a lot of money. The larger the polled group, the more accurate it was but also the more time it took the agency to compile and collate the data. To get that type of information simply cost the store money.

Today, the store entices you to give up your privacy and give them all of that information essentially for free. You sign up for their plastic cards, and use them at every purchase in order to glean a few pennies off of the price. A few pennies? Why do you do that? The store, on the other hand, gets a treasure trove of data about you for the pittance they give you in a discount and gets to compile and store that data about you and your buying habits for years. What’s more, they can then sell that information to other companies, telemarketers (don’t you love them!) and even spam e-mailers who will pay big bucks for juicy data files on potential customers and their buying habits. Giving that information away essentially for free sure was nice of you. You know, even stockholders of large multi-national corporations need to eat, too.

Now, that’s just one aspect of the privacy issue and probably the most benign. Advancing up the chain of malevolence (public school educated folks, that means “evil” or “tending to have bad intentions”) we get to the common criminal who is merely looking for an opportunity to score some merchandise he can pawn for a little dope. Here’s how that works.

You’re standing in line at the checkout to pay for your big screen TV and don’t have your “Rewards” card with you so the cashier asks you for your phone number. Like a lemming who has been trained to follow the crowd you instantly blurt out your actual phone number to get a few pennies on the dollar taken off your purchase.

Unbeknownst to you, the guy standing behind you is a criminal, an opportunist who is coming down off his high of cocaine, bath salts, or whatever makes him happy and he’s looking for some money for another hit. He now has two pieces of information about you: 1.) that big screen television you’re taking home; and 2.) your phone number.

With your phone number, he can use the internet to find your name (even if it’s unlisted, you’ve probably mentioned it on Facebook, or some other social networking site). He then knows your address. Using Google Maps on the internet, he can type in your address and get a satellite picture of your house. Using Google Street View he can then browse through your neighborhood looking for the best way to break into your house. He did this all in under two minutes from his Smart Phone.

Now that the research has all been done, he simply shows up at your house and cases it out for a couple of days, notes your work or errand schedule, whether you have dogs or not, what kind of security measures you may have and then finally ‘Blam’ he’s got your television and is on his way to the pawn shop.

Variations of this scenario can also play out with the store employee as the criminal, accessing the information from the store’s computer database for future use or even private investigators attempting to locate a person who is hiding from an abusive spouse. You think the store keeps that information private? Sucker! That information is gold and it’s for sale to whoever wants to pony up a few bucks for its use. The more current the info, the more money it will fetch.

The worst of the scenarios is when government comes around and sticks its filthy, greasy nose into the mix. Suppose you’re a plumber who does some gardening on the side. Buying some steel pipe for a plumbing job and some ammonium nitrate (common household fertilizer) for your garden? Well, if so, you can count on some 19 year-old high school drop-out who got a job working for the TSA, NSA or whatever sundry government snooping agency out there who has an interest, sitting at a computer making $9.00 an hour checking your purchases from those store databases and profiling you as a potential “terrorist” because you are purchasing the items necessary to build a pipe bomb (disclaimer, I left out a couple of the elements necessary to finish the bomb so I can’t be blamed here for inciting terrorism by another branch of that pathetic, useless, tyrannical government agency).

The next thing you know, there’s a helicopter hovering over your house at 3:00 a.m. and thirty members of your local SWAT team banging down your door. If you’re lucky, you’ll only suffer hearing loss from the percussion grenade they just lobbed into your bedroom. If you’re not so lucky, you’ll end up dead in your front yard, laying in a pool of your own blood with about 83 bullet holes in you - it all depends on how surprised you act when you wake out of a dead sleep with strangers wearing black ski masks, goggles and Kevlar helmets prancing around your bedroom with machine guns.

I do not use “reward” cards or phone numbers anywhere I make purchases. The few pennies on a dollar extra that I pay by not getting the discount is simply the small cost of maintaining my privacy. Oh, I also use cash just about everywhere I go, so for now, that can’t be traced by the government snoopers, either.

Does maintaining my privacy make me a terrorist? I don’t know. How private are the government agents who are snooping on you? What do you know about them, their personal lives and their buying habits? Not much, I suspect. So, by extension, does that make them potential terrorists? That’s a rhetorical question.




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