Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Discount Tradeoffs

I just finished a class through a writer's group called "How to Disappear," taught by a big-name skip-tracer. It was a good class that was perfectly timed, as I'm writing a book about a woman who had to disappear. The class gave me a key to the story that will go a long way toward believability.

The instructor, though, had frequent and pointed comments about those of us who use discount cards, like for bookstores and grocery stores. He asked if the $2.99 savings is worth the information we're selling, and the privacy we're giving up (because pretexting bookstores and video stores is apparently a great way to get information to find someone).

So I'm finding myself a bit defensive about the whole thing. First, because I've been skeptical of the grocery cards since they started them. I didn't get one for a long time. It was nobody's business what the hell kind of tampons I use. I never give my phone number when the clerks at Toys R Us or anywhere else ask. They always look confused when I say, "No, thank you." :)

But I finally caved when the discounts got too big to ignore (I've saved $83 already this year with my grocery card, PLUS I get .10 off a gallon of gas for every $100 I spend, PLUS I registered my kids' schools and they've gotten over $2000 based on our purchases this year).

Also? I gave false information on the application. A house number on my street that doesn't exist, initials and a misspelled last name, etc. I don't have discount cards for any other stores because I don't shop there often enough to be worth it, and some of them will give you the discount off a general card, anyway, rather than gouge you for not having one.

I do confess that I have a Barnes and Noble discount card and a Borders card, which gives coupons and stuff. He gave an example of pretexting an account to learn what someone's most recent purchases had been, which helped determine where the guy had gone. But really, all someone's going to find out about me is that I read romance romance romance and I am obsessed with Firefly. And that's all out there already.

If I ever have to disappear, I'm screwed. I know that. But I can't imagine a scenario where it would have to happen. I live a more normal life than anyone I know! And then...it helps that the asshole utility companies put them all in my husband's name, even though I'm the one who made the calls to establish them.

I wonder, without using my writer's imagination for outlandish scenarios, what harm it is doing me for the grocery store to know what kind of tampons I use. A machine spits out coupons for competing products. If I'd given them an accurate address, I'd be getting coupons in the mail, too. I suppose they're selling my sales info to people but again, what harm does it do for them to know I'm a Pringles addict? I may be naive, but I don't think I care.

And in a way, it's comforting. Remember the Sandra Bullock movie The Net? The enemy erased all trace of her. She didn't exist anymore, and they replaced all her information with the info of a criminal to try to neutralize her. That's always been a really scary prospect for me. The opposite of trying and failing to disappear--being disappeared against your will. And it resonates with me, because I could easily be her character. If I didn't have my family, it wouldn't take much for me to become a recluse. But according to what I learned in this class, there are so many databases containing so much information about me, it would be darned near impossible to be deleted from the earth against my will.



MaryF said...

I think I took this class a few years ago. My dh doesn't give out our phone number when asked. I told him it never occurred to me not to!

But if you wanted to disappear, wouldn't you just stop using those cards?

And I'm right there with you on being a recluse ;)

Natalie Damschroder said...

The point was that the information those cards help gather can help a good PI or skip tracer figure out where you might have gone. Or other stuff they might want to know about you for reasons other than disappearing.

And I'm right there with you on being a recluse ;)

I know. We're sisters of the heart in a lot of ways. :)