CASPIAN: Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering

Food for Thought

10 Reasons Not to Use a Fake Card
Katherine Albrecht, CASPIAN

Even if you think you've found a way to "beat the system," you can't keep shopping at Surveillance Central.

A lot of disgruntled shoppers believe they have found a way around the surveillance schemes at their local supermarkets. Some buy only non-card items, or segregate their purchases into two separate orders (one paid in cash and one with the card), while others fill out shopper card applications under false names and use these "anonymous" cards to get the discounts. But I am opposed to these tactics.

On the surface, they seem like fine ideas. In fact, I used to carry around a wallet full of "fake name" grocery discount cards myself. But no longer. When I began to focus on solving the supermarket registration and monitoring problem, rather than just surviving it, the flaws in these strategies became apparent. If you are still patronizing your local Surveillance market and think you're "beating the system," let me try to gently dissuade you with the following:

Q: Why shouldn't I use a fake card?

  1. It is a selfish solution. It acknowledges that there is a problem, but leaves the problem for the next person to solve -- or more unconscionably, for the next generation to solve. If we were living in a totalitarian regime where open resistance would mean jail or persecution, I could understand pretending to play along. But when the problem could be solved RIGHT NOW if everyone opposed to shopper surveillance would simply speak up, playing along removes you from the ranks of the potential solution.

  2. In fact, it adds you to the problem. When cornered on these programs, supermarkets executives point to their many "satisfied customers" as proof that people love these programs. If you smile and hand over a card each time you’re asked to, whether it’s fake or not, you simply go on their books as one more happy shopper. If you shop there without a card you will still count as a satisfied shopper. If you segregate your shopping into two orders they will count you as two happy shoppers.

  3. It feeds the hand that bites you. Do you want to financially support a company whose policies you find repugnant? Your hard-earned grocery money will be used to fund even more promotion of the registration and monitoring agenda. It will pay for lawyers and publicists to fight people like me. It will pay the salaries of the Catalina Marketing executives who create and peddle these schemes. Though your shopping behavior may feel like a private choice that only affects you and your family, shopping is a two-way street. Money that leaves your wallet winds up in someone else’s. Don’t fund the beast.

  4. It contributes to the pervasive image in other people’s minds that "this program must be okay because everybody else is going along with it." How will the average person know to fight these programs are if they see you, a person who is well informed and (hopefully) loves liberty, standing in line with a card in your hand? (See my FAQ response to the question: "If these programs are really so awful why are the supermarkets so open about them?" for more on this)

  5. It makes you complacent. Because you think you’ve found "the solution" you no longer feel like you have to fight. This pseudo-solution only sidesteps the underlying issues, however.

  6. Some have suggested that filling out multiple card applications with false information and fake addresses is a good way to "clog their database." But the truth is that these tactics won't have much impact on Big Brother's technical infrastructure at all. The stores can simply cross-reference all application information against an external address database and toss out the records that don't match. The few lines of code this requires will not slow them down. However, because application forms, data entry, cards, and cross-referencing are not cheap, the additional costs you incur for the market will be billed directly back to you and your fellow shoppers in the form of higher grocery prices.

  7. Another downside to applying multiple times: every card issued represents another "new card customer" that the supermarket executives can use in their defense. Can’t you just hear them now? "Problem? What problem? Shoppers love these cards! We get thousands of new applications each week!"

  8. Using a fake card is "sneaky" and "underhanded" rather than courageous and honorable. Back when I used fake cards, I would sometimes get a strange, gloating sense of satisfaction from cheating and "getting away with it." That feeling is far from ennobling, however, and left unchecked can begin to pervade other aspects of your life. Since I’ve eliminated the deceit and taken a stand, I now feel something far more powerful as I drive out of my way to shop at a "good" store -- Integrity. Being morally consistent and putting your money where your beliefs are can have pervasive effects on your life, too -- for good. You become that most rare individual in today’s society -- an honest person who is actually living by the principles they profess. You stand taller and can look people in the eye. I know that, because I sleep better at night and I like myself more since I've begun living in line with my beliefs.

  9. You may not be able to get a false card. The CASPIAN supermarket list gives two ratings to card-issuing supermarkets. One ‘X’ means that the market does not require identification for a card, two ‘XX’s means you can’t get a card without showing a state-issued photo ID card (or SSN and probably both). Since many people cannot get a card in a fake name, falsifying information on an application is not a practical nationwide solution.

  10. You may actually make things worse. If you were the IT (Information Technology) director of a supermarket chain that didn’t require ID, wouldn’t you be sorely tempted to start requiring ID after the thousandth fake record had to be thrown out of your database? Also, once supermarkets are armed with proof of widespread shopper dishonesty, they may implement even more invasive scrutiny of shoppers -- such as demanding ID in addition to the discount card to get through the checkout line. I wouldn’t put it past them to start asking for income, address, or banking verification, too. Lies are more likely to heighten scrutiny than to stop it.


In the final analysis, there is simply no way to "have your cake and eat it, too." You can’t in good conscience keep shopping at Surveillance Central Market through a creative tactic or deception.

Like a junkie, you may have a hard time giving up your favorite supermarket, but face it, it’s just not the store it used to be anymore. If you dislike data collection schemes enough to consider using a fake card or using some other trick to avoid participating, it's time to take a more effective stand. Cut up your fake card, and get moving -- to a different market.