Protecting Your Identity While Shopping

Ask Your Advocate: Protecting Your Identity While Shopping

When I pay for an item with a credit card, sometimes I’m asked to show ID. Are store merchants allowed to request this? Can I refuse?

–G. Graham
Brooklyn, NY

It’s understandable that you might be reluctant to show a stranger your identification. Your personal security could be compromised by revealing sensitive information on your driver’s license, such as your birth date and home address. The short answer is you can refuse to provide identification, though the merchant can then refuse to complete the transaction if you’re paying with a card other than MasterCard or Visa. Under the merchant agreements with those credit cards, a merchant is allowed to ask for ID, but you’re not required to show it, and the merchant cannot refuse the transaction. These rules are listed in MasterCard’s Merchant Rules Manual and Visa’s Rules for Visa Merchants. Be aware, however, that if you’re purchasing alcohol, tobacco, or certain medications, ID is required by law regardless of the credit card you’re using. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer organization that provides consumer information and advocacy, offers a list of types of personal information and under what circumstances consumers should give merchants their personal information (

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.