Privacy: Is it smart to hand over your email and number for discounts?

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It’s a savvy shopper’s favorite time of year: Discounts and deals as far as the eye can see.

You’re probably like me — I don’t like paying full price. But is handing over your email address, phone number or even more worth it for a coupon code? Like most things tech, it depends.

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What’s in the fine print?

Gmail on a laptop

You can set up an alias email to protect your email. (CyberGuy.com)

Did you read it when you signed up? Yeah, I thought so. It’s never too late to go back and check the terms and conditions. Here are some recent stats from Atlas VPN, which reviewed some of the most popular shopping apps.

  • 58% of the apps they reviewed shared names, home addresses, email IDs and phone numbers with third parties. (That’s code for anyone willing to pay enough.)
  • 25% shared device IDs or other unique identifiers for smartphones and tablets.
  • Roughly a third disclosed financial data, including purchase history and payment details.
  • 28% shared location data with “external sources,” whatever that means.

Things aren’t much better if you’re signing up for an email list, handing over your number for marketing texts or becoming a “member,” even when it’s free. Speaking of …

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What about store loyalty cards?

woman shopping in store

In this rearview, an unrecognizable woman stands with a shopping cart in front of a shelf full of food in the bread aisle of a grocery store. (iStock)

Getting talked into signing up for a store loyalty program is easy. In exchange for a little info, you can score great deals on groceries, household items, you name it. But just like the other methods we discussed, you’re giving away a lot more than you think.

Each swipe of your loyalty card, phone number or email address tells the store everything you bought, when you bought it, in what quantity, and at what price, along with your payment details. Pair that with downloading your store’s app; they also know where you are.

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“Who cares if my store knows what brands I like?” Fair enough, but the tracking goes far beyond that. Rewards cards store data, including your name, address, phone number, and credit and debit cards. Thieves can steal this information and create a fake identity for a crime spree.

The good news is there are simple ways around handing this over.

  • Use your office phone number as your loyalty number. If they need an email address, I give them a disposable one. (More on that below.)
  • Look for stores that don’t require loyalty programs for discounts, like Trader Joe’s and Walmart.
  • Don’t forget physical coupons. Most grocery stores have a coupon section on their website where you can print, snip and hand in.
  • Whatever you do, never give them your Social Security number or driver’s license number.
  • Ask for the discount anyway. Cashiers usually have a code to charge the digital price without you needing to have a loyalty app or code.
  • If all else fails, smile and ask the person behind you, “Hey, mind if I use your card?” Be polite, and I bet you’ll get a yes.

And hey, if all else fails, consider whether saving $1.25 is worth it for your data. I’m willing to bet it’s not.

Family-sized cereal aisle

Family-sized General Mills and Quaker Cereal aisle in a grocery store. (Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Do it the privacy-first way

Remember how often sites used to ask you to answer a question to prove your identity? Thieves caught on, and now your bank has safer ways of ensuring it’s you than providing your mother’s maiden name.

My advice back then is the same now: Fudge it. (If you ever are asked to answer a personal question when creating a log-in, make something up — as long as you can remember what you said later.)

For coupons, loyalty cards and all the rest, that means setting yourself up with a burner email address and phone number. I encourage you to keep your real contact info closer to the vest. 

Burner email addresses are disposable and can be used in place of your primary.

  • Temp Mail provides a temporary, anonymous and disposable email address. You don’t need to register for the free version. Remember that the service doesn’t automatically delete your temporary email address (that’s up to you), and you can’t send emails. Emails are stored for about two hours before they’re automatically deleted.
  • 10MinuteMail is another popular option you can also use to send emails. As the name suggests, the email and address are deleted in 10 minutes. If you receive an important message you don’t want to lose, you can forward it to another email address. There’s no need to provide personal information to get started, which is a nice bonus.

If you’re an Apple iCloud+ subscriber, you get access to one of my favorite Apple features: Hide My Email. It creates unique, random email addresses that forward to your inbox. You can create as many addresses as you want and reply to messages.

  • Go to Settings and tap your Apple ID.
  • Go to iCloud > Hide My Email > Create New Address.
  • Follow the onscreen instructions, and you’ll get a new email address you can manage from iCloud settings.

Here are options for getting a burner phone number, if you need one.

Keep your tech-know going 

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Plus, I’m hooking Jessica from Illinois up with tips for cheap last-minute flights. Doing some holiday shopping? Here are the top tech gifts this season. Free tool to block online trolls and unique remote jobs. Also, try these Siri and Google Assistant voice commands for emergencies!

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Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, “Komando.”

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