Dear Consumer Ed:

We recently ordered $800 worth of merchandise from an online store that we have purchased from in the past. A few days after placing the order, the company sent me an email stating that in order to complete the transaction, we had to email them photocopies of both front and back of the credit card used and a government-issued ID, and if we didn't they would cancel our order.  I called VISA, and they told me that the only companies allowed to request that additional information are hotels, airlines, car rental companies and cruise lines.  I did not send the company the information they requested, so they refused to send me my order. Can they do that?

Consumer Ed says: 

Many states have laws that dictate what kind of information merchants can and cannot ask for when a consumer pays with a credit card.  However, all merchants are subject to the rules and regulations outlined in their contract with the credit card company.  For example, your card company, VISA, has International Operating Regulations that state merchants cannot require a cardholder to provide any supplementary information as a condition for honoring a VISA Card, subject to some exceptions.  Supplementary cardholder information can include social security numbers, fingerprints, home or business addresses or telephone numbers, driver’s license numbers, photocopies of driver’s licenses, photocopies of the VISA Card, and other credit cards. As you stated, hotels, airlines, car rental companies, and cruise lines do fall within the exception to the rule. 

So, while a merchant may ask a consumer for identification, he generally may not deny a VISA credit card transaction because the consumer refuses to show identification.  Generally, a signed credit card is all you should need to present in order to avoid showing identification.  Be aware that identification may be required for other purposes, such as purchasing alcohol, tobacco products, or certain medications. 

Paying online or by phone can sometimes create an exception for the merchant, and they may ask for some identifying information, such as a zip code.  This varies a bit by credit card company:  MasterCard’s rule for merchants regarding supplemental identification is similar to VISA’s; American Express doesn't ban merchants from requiring customer identification, though it discourages the practice; Discover’s policy allows merchants to request identification if desired.  You should always contact your credit card company and ask about its policy regarding supplemental identification. Often, you will find that many merchants ignore or are unaware of this identification rule.  If you’re shopping in a store rather than online, and you don’t want to show identification, simply sign your card and refuse to provide ID if asked.  If you feel strongly about not showing identification, you may wish to print out a copy of the relevant merchant rule and ask to speak to a store manager. 

In your particular case, you can email the merchant a copy of Visa’s International Operation Regulations.  If the merchant still demands to see your identification, and then refuses you service if you fail to comply, you should contact your credit card company to open an incident report.  This will initiate an investigation, which can result in a warning or even a fine to the business for violating their merchant contract.

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