Help out a video store manager!

A couple of months ago when I became manager of a video rental store, I asked for and received a ton of good advice from you people about what I could do to increase business at the store. I’ve implemented a lot of your suggestions, and I can proudly say that business is doing very nicely. In June our sales were up 30% compared to the same month last year!

Lately I’ve run into a snag, and I need to turn to you again for advice. Recently a woman pulled a scam on our store. She signed up for a new membership, rented ten movies, then ran off with them. Apparently she gave us a fake phone number, ignored our letters, and didn’t have enough money on the credit card she opened the account with to pay for the movies. As is our policy, after three weeks of this with no contact with her, we sent her to collections for the amount she owed us.

Seems like a pretty run-of-the-mill problem for a video store, right? I mean, it’s not that unusual that people give us bad phone numbers and don’t return the movies. It just goes with the territory. But apparently this was the final straw for the owners of the store, and they decided to implement two new policies:

  1. we are now supposed to call new member’s phone numbers to ensure that they are valid.

  2. we are now supposed to take customer’s social security numbers when they sign up.

I feel extremely uncomfortable with both of these policies, as do all of my employees. We already take people’s address, phone number, driver’s license number, and credit card number – taking the social security number just seems like too much. If all that information fell into the wrong hands, a lot of damage could be done. If a video rental asked for my social security number and credit card number, I’d think twice about signing up.

As for the phone thing, what kind of impression does that give if we’re calling up to check on people?? If possible, we’re supposed to call while the customer is still in the store, not while they’re standing in front of us, but while they’re looking around. What are we supposed to say when someone picks up the phone? What if someone gives us their cell phone number, and they answer while they’re still in the store – are we supposed to just wave to them from the counter??

I’ve already told the boss that we’re all very uncomfortable with these ideas, but he stands firm on them. What is your opinion of this, and what do you think I should/could do about it?

It’s unlikely that you could do anything actionable with that information even if you had it. It sounds like your boss is just doing something to do something - customers are not likely to give out their SSN and you can’t force them to do so in order to do business with you. Calling the phone number is unreliable, and offers no extra assurance.

I’d ask your boss what he expects to come of this policy, really, since it’s likely to turn away more customers and lose more money than it would help prevent in potential losses. At my store we used to require accounts that were not held with a cc to be secured by presenting proof of address, usually in the form of a utility bill in the customer’s name. Still, that didn’t do much other than assure the customer did, at one point, have a known address.

If you haven’t already reported the loss to the police, do so as soon as you can. Make sure you get it on file. Also, keep attempting to charge the card. We did charge-offs at 30, 60, and 120 days but when we had time I would go back and do everything over 120 days as well. On more than one occasion I was able to charge on an account that had declined every previous attempt. A couple times we even got the movies back after someone came in bitching about their card being charged!

Another policy we implemented was that new accounts could only have two movies out at a time. So, if a customer came in and opened a new account just to scam us, we’d only be out two movies. Most of the time you won’t have repeat customers running off with your stuff. You could even extend this to customers renting from out of town, or other ‘high-risk’ renters (i.e. secondary renters on the main account).

Video rental is a thankless business and I hate to say it’s only going to get worse in the years to come. Customers want you to be everything to everyone, but they don’t want to have to actually exercise any responsibility of their own. The best you can do is be as responsible as you can, make sure you have diligent account management practices in place and train your employees well.

We are supposed to have limits on how many movies customers can have out (6 for regular customers, IIRC 2 or 3 for new members), but it tends to get overlooked in the pressure to rent more movies and make more money.

Here’s the funny thing – we take credit card numbers, but most of the time we’re not even allowed to charge them if people don’t return their movies! Instead they’re sent directly to collections. The boss himself tried this woman’s credit card just because he was so mad, I guess. I really don’t understand it – if for some reason I didn’t return some movies after three weeks I know for sure that I’d rather just have someone charge my credit card than to completely mess up my credit score!

Why not tell your boss that you feel collection Social Security data would discriminate against people without Social Security Numbers, which could be considered a form of discrimination against a “Protected Category” of people (ie, discrimination based on National Origin)?

Failing that, you could make up anecdotal evidence of all the customers you’ve lost because they’re not giving you their Social Security numbers AND credit card numbers… thus convincing him that trying to do something about what’s really an inherent risk is causing MORE damage than just riding with the loss and moving on, so to speak…

So you both agree then that those two new policies are in fact bad ideas?

I like the idea of making up stories about customers getting pissed off. :wink:

These new policy ideas are extremely bad, IMO. I certainly wouldn’t patronise a video store rental place that wanted all that info.

As more and more people have broadband internet, there’s also the risk they may decide to download the film rather then entrust all this information to a video library, which is a bad thing on all sorts of levels…

Everyone pretty much has a SS#, (I don’t know about immigrants, but I believe they have some kind of ID). It’s issued to you at birth.

Why not tell your boss that some folks would be out and out offended at being asked their SSN for a video store membership?

If I were asked for my SSN, I would rip up the membership application.

Like I want a video store clerk to have my credit card number AND my SSN??? Isn’t that asking for an identity theft??

I think both policies are a bad idea, and I don’t think either one will help with the problem. What’s to stop the scammer from giving you a bogus SS number? Or are you going to make them bring in the card to show you?

The same with the phone number. You can call to check if it’s a working number, but if you get an answering machine (which you will a high percent of the time), a lot of the time you won’t be able to tell from the message if it really belongs to the person signing up for the account. I guess you could make them go home and receive your call and give you some password to confirm it’s them at that number… :slight_smile:

I think a bigger concern is that the number of scammers you may catch with the new policies will most likely be outweighed by the number of people who will not become members when they learn you want to take down their social security numbers.

I’d say what would be a better idea would be to make sure new members can’t take out so many movies at the same time.

I already told the boss that people won’t like giving out their SSN’s because of worries about identity theft, and he responded that signing up for a membership at the video store is “a contract, and it is not unusual to ask for a SSN from someone when they are entering a contract.” Admittedly, he said that if push came to shove we shouldn’t lose a customer if they refused to give their SSN. (He says that now, but wait till someone refuses to give a SSN, we sign them up anyways, and they still run off with the movies!) Our membership applications have a slot for the SSN on it, but up to now we have been telling people not to fill it in (and when they do we black it out with a marker). I asked if we could just not say anything, and if they fill it out then fine, and if they don’t then that’s okay too. But he said no – we have to ask.

I especially feel uncomfortable with the phone call thing. He said our cover story could be that we’re calling to make sure they had a good experience shopping with us, but if we’re supposed to call while they’re still in the store, how is that possibly going to work??

I don’t think I have any ideas on how to change your boss’s mind, but I do have some reactions to his policies.

I think calling the number to verify that it’s in service isn’t so bad. I recognize that it’s a little awkward for you, but I don’t see how any reasonable customer could object. (The only one I can see would be “Hey, that’s my home phone, and if you call it you’ll wake up my wife!”). All you need to do is make sure it rings. Of course, you won’t catch dedicated scammers, who’ll come in with fake but operating phone numbers.

Asking for SSN, on the other hand, is a big problem. I most definitely would refuse to do business with any retail establishment that asked for it. Anyone who knows my SSN gains the ability to steal my identity and thoroughly screw up my finances. And since your checking driver’s licenses, the customer reveals his DOB as well.

I really do not understand why the boss doesn’t try to charge the CC for the overdue (and presumably stolen) videos. If necessary, change the rental agreement to explicitly allow this. That’s got to be much cheaper than turning it over to a collection agency.

I would agree that not enforcing the limit on number of videos out is shooting himself in the foot as well.

I’ll echo what others have said regarding SSNs. It’s probably not that big a deal in the larger scheme of things, but it does rub people the wrong way.

The biggest problem is renting out 10 movies at a time. Enforce some sort of limit, even if just for new customers. Who the hell keeps 10 movies out at a time? There’s going to be loss, but really does anyone need more than 4 out at a time?

Here’s a thought that may help convince your boss: Do a little legwork on your days off. Check out the competition, go to all the other video stores in your city both chain and independently owned and get a copy of their membership applications. I guarantee that none of them will ask for SSN. Take all of them and present them to your boss. Tell him that these are the options for people who won’t feel comfortable giving out their SSN. Then ask him if he’s comfortable handing over business to these guys. See what he says.

Even if you had a SSN for someone who ran away with your merchandise, there’s nothing that information is going to do for you. Chances are, the person who rips you off like that already has a record and doesn’t care, has ruined their credit rating or maxed out their card, and will not be easy to find unless and until they do something stupid. The best you can do, really, is file a police report and hope they get caught in the act somewhere else. Even then, you’re not likely to get anything back or get recompense for your merchandise.

Your boss would be much better off ensuring you had enough staff, training, and resources that you can have someone out walking the floor to engage customers and keep an eye on merchandise, and crack down to make sure the new-renter limit on movies is actually being enforced.

When I was working at a video store the sheet people filled out asked for their SSN but rarely did they ever put it and I just decided not to hassle them about it (especially since there was no where in the system to type it in :rolleyes: ). One thing we did to prevent those type of customers though was to ask for two phone numbers because a scammer is less likely to have two fake numbers ready. We also did a mini-credit check to make sure they actually had money on their cards. What I don’t understand is if the person’s credit card is real and they run away with 10 movies, why not just charge their card for the price of the ten movies? That will either force them to come back or you made your money.

That’s usually the policy, but I can tell you from experience that 95% of the time the credit card will be declined because the thief has already maxed it out and doesn’t care. Chances are the card is stolen anyhow.

Two phone numbers is a good idea.

The other way I used to verify phone numbers was through the phone company’s “reverse directory” service. Either on line or by phone you can enter the number and find out if it’s working, and even the name and address of the account holder (unless it’s unlisted.) Probably won’t help on all numbers, whatwith cell phone use being higher than it was back in my day, but it’ll help some, and you won’t have to call the number itself.

SSN? Nope, no way. Back when I was managing the Blockbuster, we were supposed to ask, and there was a blank on the form, but we were drilled that not providing it was not to stop a sign-up. And really, what’s your boss going to do with it, anyway? It’s not like he can send her to collections harder or anything.

Oh, the other thing you can do is run a preauthorization on the credit card at the time of sign up. Customers don’t like this, but most of them put up with it. It lets you know that, at that moment, anyway, the card is working.

I think we used to do a preauth for a couple of bucks - it doesn’t charge the card, but it “holds” that amount for your store for the next I forget how many hours (48, maybe?).

If you do the preauth, you have to train your staff how to recognize debit cards, and not to accept them as credit cards, because a preauth on a debit card makes it all wonky for some reason.

Y’know, I was just thinking that a preauth for, say, half the price of the movies, might make sense for large initial rentals. Limit two movies, or I preauth your card for $50 or something. If the card won’t take a preauth of $50, you know it won’t take a charge if they don’t return the movies. Just a thought.

I’ll stop posting now. :smiley:

Working in leadership myself, these are all good points but making a case for an alternative is going to be a lot more effective than complaining. (I do have to point out - what’s the point of the phone number? If they’re making off with ten movies, they could just hang up on you. It’s easy to get a phone number or use a friend’s.)

Rather than driving away new customers entirely, why not put sane limits on video rentals? How many new customers need 10 videos the first time? Allow two or three rentals, and beyond that require a deposit for new renters on their credit card (preauth it) if you’re really worried about excluding anyone. If someone can afford to rent ten videos at once, they can probably afford the preauth, and if not, they’re too high-risk. Most people won’t bother building up a history of good renting.

Other than that, just put the lady in collections or sue her in small claims if it burns your boss so much that she did it.

While this isn’t foolproof, I don’t see anything wrong with it. The video rental store where I have my account did this when I first signed up. (And they didn’t ask for a credit card number, FWIW. At least I don’t think they did. If they did, that particularl credit card has long since expired, and I’ve never updated the info.)

Actually, I’ve got some better suggestions:

(1) Take mug shots and fingerprints of anybody who rents fom you. If they don’t return the videos, you can print their pictures in the newspaper and put up Wanted posters all over town.

(2) Introduce new customers to Fat Tony, who’ll send a guy around to break their kneecaps if they don’t return their videos in a timely manner.

(3) When new customers sign up, implant a device in their central nervous system so that, if they don’t bring their videos back, you can press a button and cause them excruciating pain.

(3a) Or at least put a tracking device on the videos themselves.