Risks Mount as Stores Mine a Wealth of Shopper Data

Vast troves of information are vulnerable to fraud By Jenn Abelson, Globe Staff

With a scan of your index finger, some supermarkets memorize what kind of toilet paper or cereals you buy. They share that information with suppliers who offer coupons so you'll purchase more of their products next time.

Other merchants collect your driver's license number when you make a return. They share that information with a company that keeps track of your returns. If you have too many, the store may suspect you're making fraudulent exchanges and ban you from bringing back merchandise.

Retailers have become huge repositories of personal data in recent years, assembling increasing amounts of information and sharing more of it with others. But in the quest for knowledge, some merchants, like TJX Cos., have become prime targets for thieves looking to pilfer sensitive information, and have made their customers more vulnerable to fraud and identity theft. Indeed, some analysts believe store databases are becoming even more valuable than stolen merchandise.

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