January 4

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Identity Theft is not supposed to be part of Paradise!

If you’ve never been, Key West is a paradise, of sorts. Plenty of tropical settings, water-side bars and restaurants and tons of live music. I’ve been using the last few days down here in Margaritaville (yup, I’m a Parrot Head) to relax, reflect and focus on the year ahead.

Since last night was my parent’s last night here (on this trip), they invited us to join them on the wharf to listen to some live music and enjoy a quiet family dinner. They suggested we try the Conch Republic Seafood Company.

We watched the sunset celebration, then walked over to check the menu and get a table. We liked the fact that the music seemed decent and they weren’t too crowded – which meant getting a table for six should have been a snap. But not only did we learn that they didn’t want to seat us, turns out they are also prime candidates to CAUSE identity theft or credit card fraud!

My Mom went over to get us a table. The hostess bluntly informed her that it was a forty-minute wait! I don’t buy the wait, but that’s not a problem. What transpired next in incredible to me…

The hostess proceeded to inform my mother that if we wanted our name on the list to wait for a table, she needed to leave her military ID with them. My Mom immediately declined, because, as she said, “It just didn’t feel right to me.” And good thing, too. I don’t think that leaving Military (or any) identification with people you don’t know in public places is a good action for anyone to take.

So when my mom declined, the manager came over to get involved, declared her status as the manager and explained that they only way we would get a table was to leave the military ID (note, no offer to leave a driver’s license) or a valid credit card. Valid? Credit card?

Now I don’t know about you, but I have traveled the world and traveled the US extensively. This was the first casual dining restaurant where my party of six was asked for a credit card or military ID to even get our name listed on the wait-list for a table!

Needless to say, it upset my mother and father and we decided to leave. I was really proud of my parents that they instinctively knew that this was a bad request and to walk away. As a former restaurant professional, I was embarrassed for the manager and her poor conduct – she not only violated the laws of common sense, but she caused a party of six to walk out of her restaurant without spending any money at all. That’s a big loss for a restaurant with open tables.

Even in paradise, some people don’t get it when it comes to identity theft. There is no reason to ask for an ID card or credit card for a table.

It has occurred to me that if anyone reading this is stationed at Naval Air Station Key West, you may want to issue an alert to the base that this sort of behavior has been spotted and is not to be tolerated. I cannot imagine the negative impact of having a military ID stolen or compromised. If you’re in the military in a position to communicate this up, feel free to contact me for additional details. But at a time of 100% ID check, this sort of behavior in the town cannot be condoned.

In the future:

1. I strongly suggest avoiding The Conch Republic if you visit Key West. We found plenty of other restaurants that appreciated our business and provided excellent food without risking our identities or being ungrateful in the process. If you need some recommendations, send me an email. Going there and rewarding their behavior only means it is a matter of time before someone gets compromised by their antics.

2. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. If someone makes this sort of an absurd request, walk away. No restaurant is worth your identity or credit card fraud. In fact, one of the two times my credit card was compromised was at a restaurant (the other was a limo driver). Did you know the average victim of identity theft (not credit card fraud) pays $6600 out of their own pocket? That would be an expensive dinner!

3. If you are with an organization that provides a service, don’t make this mistake. Think before you act and consider the information you are requesting. Most places that ask for a form of identification or credit card don’t really need them.

Well, I’m off to celebrate another sunset. I hope your transition back to work has been smooth.

1/11/2007: Here is a quick update/clarification from my mom:
There is one point of clarification.  I believe the woman did ask first for my license, and when I told her I only had my military ID, she requested that.  I thought I was only showing it to her, but when she reached for it, I took it back and told her she could not have it.  After that, the manager intervened and requested my cc.  None of it makes sense to me yet, but I like the way you put the story out there including the reasons why it is a potentially dangerous practice.
This doesn’t really change my stance or attitude, but it explains the request for the military ID. Cleary, we have our work cut out for us in 2007. Spread the word!


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