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Are You a Serial Returner? You're Being Watched

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Serial returners, beware! Retailers are tracking you. Some big-name stores are swiping IDs and storing information of shoppers who constantly return items to help combat theft.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Serial returners, beware! Retailers are tracking you.  Some big-name stores are swiping IDs and storing information of shoppers who constantly return items to help combat theft.

But as the data mounts, lawsuits are claiming it's an invasion of privacy.

"They had no shame," says Andrea Pena. She opened a boutique in downtown Springfield after years of working in corporate stores.

Pena says she understand why the companies are doing the tracking, because she saw serial returners on a regular basis.

"If they did it once, and the customer is always right, so people would get away with it and continue to."

When Paige Whitcomb first opened her store, Nomad, she didn't have a return policy.

"For a while we didn't have any problems, and then later in the year once we'd been open for a little bit, we had a couple issues where people would buy dresses for the weekend and then we would see a lot of returns on Monday."

After that, she instituted the same no-return policy as Pena.

Since they don't have the same means as a large company to track repeat offenders, "we would have to just take that as a loss," says Pena. "It starts to add up."

But some people are unaware what many stores are doing with their information, and feel that it's an invasion of privacy.

In 2011, a Florida man sued Best Buy after his ID was swiped when making a return. He wanted the store to delete his information and the store refused. A federal appeals court ruled that the driver's privacy protection act didn't apply in this case.

"Any time you voluntarily give someone your personal information, they really can do with that whatever they want," says lawyer Will Worsham. "You can say, 'I'm not giving you my information.' Now the store may then decide they're not going to do business with you, and that's really their choice."

"It's kind of a hard thing to catch, but it's very frustrating and disappointing," says shopper Silvia Sheppard. She doesn't abuse the system, and doesn't have a problem with the data collection. "I would support any effort to prevent that."

All of the big-name corporate-owned stores KOLR10 News reached out to for an interview declined to comment.

One company that offers return tracking services is The Retail Equation in California. More than 27,000 stores use its services. The company says fraudulent and abusive returns are costing retailers $14-18 billion a year in the U.S.
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