My pet peeve: Sometimes when I'm sitting in a car repair shop or a car wash, I hear another customer talking loudly on a cellphone to a pharmacist. The customer orders medicine and blurts out name, address and date of birth.
Why don't people step outside and talk in private? Don't they realize that anyone else listening could use that information to engage in identity theft?
Apparently, I'm not the only one with this kind of pet peeve. For Christopher Dills, a retired high school journalism teacher, his sore spot is standing in line at a Walgreens pharmacy in Mansfield, where he lives, and being asked to give the same information. Recently, he got so upset that he complained to a store manager.
He says he understands the need for such information to make sure people get the right medicine. But he told the manager that he heard the name, address and Social Security numbers of two women in front of him.
"I refused to give my information out loud when I was called," he said. "I explained firmly but nicely that I and anybody else could be at the homes of the 'victims' before they were because Walgreens made it possible."
He asked the manager why an identification card showing the information wasn't acceptable. He was told that those cards sometimes contain incorrect information and that answering orally was corporate policy.
He asked The Watchdog, "Can you help stop this practice of needlessly putting people at risk?"
I can, but first, let me share Walgreens' response. It took me 11 days to get an answer from the company, and I had to send five pleading e-mails. But when a spokeswoman wrote back, she said the company had retrained the Mansfield staff in response to the complaint.
"We are committed to patient privacy," Vivika Panagiotakakos wrote. "If a patient or caregiver would like to pick up medication, we do ask for patient information to help verify that the right prescription is given to the right customer."
She said patients can ask to move to a private area. "In addition, many of our pharmacies do have signs near the counter to help promote patient privacy so customers can feel comfortable speaking to pharmacy staff.
"We have retrained our Mansfield staff about steps they can take to ensure patient privacy and making sure that only one customer is near the counter at a time."
Another Walgreens pharmacy customer, Paul Diviney of Fort Worth, tells me he is so concerned about keeping his information private that he uses only the drive-through lane closest to the window so that when he speaks to the staff, other drivers can't hear him.
CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis told me corporate policy for CVS stores is to ask for private information softly so others can't hear. He says the information is sought at a separate window, which is not in the immediate pickup area. "Privacy is one reason we set it up like that," he said.
Jay Foley of the Identity Theft Resource Center said information as simple as a name, address and date of birth is "enough to get the ball rolling" for an identity thief.
He told the story of a case in a California pharmacy several years ago involving a woman who regularly roamed the aisles. Pharmacy staffers thought she was lonely. "She'd talk to people and seemed like a pretty harmless lady," he said.
Turns out she wasn't so harmless. When she was arrested on charges of identity theft, police found her carrying the names of 18 people and their Social Security numbers, all of whom were customers of that pharmacy.
Foley's solution: "If I were a customer, what I would do is take a slip of paper and write the answers down and show it to the clerk. Then I'd take that piece of paper home and shred it."
Panagiotakakos said that would work in Walgreens stores.
Sunday: Parking in Fort Worth gets complicated.
The Watchdog column appears Fridays and Sundays.
Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043