Help me out here, lawyers!

OK, you don’t even have to be a lawyer to help me out here. I have an advanced purchase booking for a Priority Club property in California this weekend which apparently makes a habit of photocopying ID’s at check-in, even of guests paying with credit cards.

Obviously I find this to be unacceptable and unnecessary, but based on the reports I’ve heard, this hotel doesn’t budge. I’ll make a scene if I have to, and as a matter of principle will under no circumstance let them photocopy my ID. I’ll be arriving late at night, so chances are that there won’t be anyone in a position of power around.

So, can anyone arm me with the tools needed to put up a fight? Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ve reconsidered this stance in the meantime, but I think it would be nice to be “armed” should the need occur, and I think this is an interesting topic in general (along with credit card minimum purchases, photo ID when using a credit card at many establishments, etc.).

Filed Under: Advice, Hotels
  1. Not sure about the specifics of credit card use in the United States but if I recall from my research a couple of years ago the following applies south of the 49th parallel as well. In Canada the Merchant agreements that Visa and Mastercard have with their merchants specifically forbid the merchant from asking for ID unless there is no signature on the card, or the signatures don’t match. Their reasoning is they want it to be as easy as possible for you to use your cards, and not choose another form of payment.

    In fact there is an entire policy and procedure that the customer can go through, including a dedicated toll free number to call, if a merchant violates this policy. The penalties under the merchant agreement are severe and kick in after the first reported incident.

    As for photocopying of ID, I would look at the privacy legislation that may or may not be in place in CA. Again in Canada, our privacy legislation is federally regulated, and requires a collector of such info to not keep anything you don’t want them too. They also have to provide you info with regards to what they do have on file, if you have granted them the right to retain it, which can be revoked at any time. They also have to provide you with a copy of their privacy policy whenever and wherever the data is collected.

    Not sure it helps, but might get you on the right track.

    I especially enjoy having the conversation about ID and credit cards with unscrupulous merchants, who always try and tell me it is for my protection. To which I remind them that Credit Cards no longer carry a liability for the card holder for any unauthorized charges, and that they are full of crap!

  2. You may have some leeway pressing them regarding their merchant agreement with Visa/Mastercard, but that’s only a contractual agreement, not a law. If they break it, Visa or Mastercard would have to come after them for damages in court. In summary, I think you don’t have much of a case, although can always throw a fit and see what happens.

    Cardholder ID
    Although Visa rules do not preclude merchants from asking for cardholder ID, merchants cannot make an ID a condition of acceptance. Therefore, merchants cannot refuse to complete a purchase transaction because a cardholder refuses to provide ID . Visa believes merchants should not ask for ID as part of their regular card acceptance procedures. Laws in several states also make it illegal for merchants to write a cardholder’s personal information, such as an address or phone number, on a sales receipt. P. 29, Visa Merchant Card Acceptance Policy

    California law seems a bit unclear about whether they can demand a photocopy, but they certainly can demand that you show ID:

    California Civil Code 1747.08 States that the merchant isn’t prohibited from asking for ID by law, which bluntly says CA doesn’t care if they ask/don’t ask for ID, as long as they follow certain guidelines if they do. Unfortunately these merchant’s are in Agreement’s with VISA/MC not to ask for ID. Also this Merchant periodically takes down individuals DL# with every CC transaction at their locations. They broke the merchant policy and were going to break the California civil code for every transaction in the store that is taking place with a credit card.

    (a) Except as provided in subdivision (c), no person, firm, partnership, association, or corporation that accepts credit cards for the transaction of business shall do any of the following:

    (1) Request, or require as a condition to accepting the credit card as payment in full or in part for goods or services, the cardholder to write any personal identification information upon the credit card transaction form or otherwise.

    (b ) For purposes of this section “personal identification information,” means information concerning the cardholder, other than information set forth on the credit card, and including, but not limited to, the cardholder’s address and telephone number.

    (d) This section does not prohibit any person, firm, partnership, association, or corporation from requiring the cardholder, as a condition to accepting the credit card as payment in full or in part for goods or services, to provide reasonable forms of positive identification, which may include a driver’s license or a California state identification card, or where one of these is not available, another form of photo identification, provided that none of the information contained thereon is written or recorded on the credit card transaction form or otherwise. If the cardholder pays for the transaction with a credit card number and does not make the credit card available upon request to verify the number, the cardholder’s driver’s license number or identification card number may be recorded on the credit card transaction form or otherwise.

    (e) Any person who violates this section shall be subject to a civil penalty not to exceed two hundred fifty dollars ($250) for the first violation and one thousand dollars ($1,000) for each subsequent violation, to be assessed and collected in a civil action brought by the person paying with a credit card, by the Attorney General, or by the district attorney or city attorney of the county or city in which the violation occurred. However, no civil penalty shall be assessed for a violation of this section if the defendant shows by a preponderance of the evidence that the violation was not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error made notwithstanding the defendant’s maintenance of procedures reasonably adopted to avoid that error. When collected, the civil penalty shall be payable, as appropriate, to the person paying with a credit card who brought the action, or to the general fund of whichever governmental entity brought the action to assess the civil penalty.

  3. By the way, found all that information with the google terms “having to show id credit card purchase california”, which yields other relevant results.

  4. Lucky –

    I don’t think the issue here is the credit card – anyone accepting credit cards can ask for ID, and hotels are allowed to ask for ID for the person staying there, the issue is the photocopying.

    There’s a Kiplinger column ( about this that states:

    During a recent stay at a Best Western hotel in Florida, I paid with a credit card and was also asked for my driver’s license so that the hotel could copy it. I was told it was “policy.” Is this something new for hotels, and should I be concerned about identity theft?

    A Best Western spokesman says that more of its hotels are asking for proof of ID when taking a credit card, but any copies made should be destroyed after checkout. This practice isn’t limited to Best Western — many hotels throughout the country now ask to make a copy of a driver’s license at check-in, says Joe McInerney, of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. “They want to make sure the person on that reservation is the person who is staying there,” he says.

    In fact, some municipalities now require hotels to collect that information, which can help in case of a criminal investigation, says Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “I don’t see it as being particularly risky,” he says, especially if your Social Security number isn’t on your license.

    Overall, I think this falls into the bucket where the merchant is allowed to set policies and if you don’t like it you take your business elsewhere – there is no right to stay at a given hotel.

  5. Does your confirmation from the hotel say that you need ID or is this just what you’ve read online? Seems easier to tell them you accidentally lost your ID when going through security then to try to bring up the finer points of california credit card regulations.

  6. Fantastic help, thanks guys! I don’t have time to go through the links right now, but I will in a bit. The one thing I wanted to emphasize was that I’m on an advanced purchase booking, so it’s pre-paid. Nowhere in the confirmation does it mention anything about a photo ID (although I know it’s generally required), and especially about their policy of photocopying ID’s.

    So if I refused to let them photocopy my ID and they wouldn’t budge, doesn’t that make it a somewhat unique situation since I’ve already paid for my stay, as they’re not honoring their end of the contract?

  7. I have been to many (international) hotels that asked to photocopy my passport. Most recently the Le Meridien in Amman, Jordan. In some places they insist on holding on to the passport until you check out (though I haven’t experienced that in a long time).

    2a. Paying by Credit Card: California State Laws

    California law does not prohibit a merchant from requiring a consumer who pays for goods or services by credit card to show identification such as a California driver’s license or California ID. If these are not available, another form of photo identification can be required to be shown. But merchants cannot write or record any information from these documents.

    Oh… and Google led me to this interesting story:

    “This is Barry Mann, General Manager of the hotel, Mr. Stollenwerk. Ahhh, it’s a little after 9 in the morning. I’d like you to come down and present some picture ID. Otherwise, the next knock on the door will be the police terrorism squad. Thank you.”

    Good luck, Ben!

  8. Heck…I’d say I don’t have a driver’s license. Offer a library card or something that is irrelevant. Open your wallet and give them a choice of nothing!! This haoppened to me once and I opened my wallet and told them to take their pick. Had a library card and my “Friday’s” loyalty card.

  9. I love all the suggestions, thanks. Keep ’em coming. Just to clarify, I have no problem showing my ID, I just have a problem with it being photocopied.

    Maybe I should use my Costco or BJ’s card? 😀

  10. If you really don’t want your ID photocopied and have prepaid, and the hotel won’t budge, they will probably just refund you your money and you’ll have to find somewhere else to stay. I guess it depends on whether you’d be willing to put up with the hassle of fighting returns for your money back and finding a new place to stay last minute.

  11. If they don’t let you stay there without showing ID and you end up staying somewhere else, pick a nice alternative and sue them in small claims court for the cost, citing breach of contract (they didn’t tell you about the ID requirement upfront and last I checked there was no requirement in the US to carry an ID with you).

  12. During the last time I’ve encountered a hotel that had a policy to copy my photo ID, I asked if my company ID (has picture and name only) would suffice. The hotel said yes. And before I left, I asked the front desk to return the copy of the ID to me so that I can personally destroy it.

  13. Starwood generaly checks your ID (but does not copy them). St Regis SF did that a couple of weeks ago.

    Hyatt never checks ID.

    I’ve never had a domestic US property insist on copying passport / driver’s license.

  14. I don’t understand what’s the big deal. In many countries (e.g. Italy) is a REQUIREMENT for the hotel to make a photocopy of the ID of all guests, no matter how you pay!

  15. Thanks for all the help, guys. As a slight update, they did want to photocopy my ID but said they’d give it back to me at check-out. Due to some other circumstances at check-in (a completely stoned agent and a pissed off cab driver that was waiting to get paid), I didn’t push it, but I’ll speak to the manager today.

  16. There is also the simple quid-pro-quo approach. Say you will only allow them to photo copy yours if they give you a photo copy of theirs. You should be able to know who has a copy of your information.

    Which ID did you end up providing?

  17. Also, the credit card companies say you cannot discriminate against credit cards over cash. I’ve seen hotels demand more from the few cash paying customers than from credit card users. A Hampton Inn I often stay at required (but did not copy) my ID the first time, but has never asked on return visits. I’m not sure if the hotel changed their policy or flagged me as a previous stayer. The hotel was new the first visit. On my most recent trip the lady behind me was paying in cash and I believe they did copy her license.

    For non Hiltons I present a photo credit card and that has been fine for the majority of hotels.

  18. Just a note from the hotel’s perspective… I work at a hotel in a resort area and we just got a note from management this morning stating that we would now be required to photo copy ID’s when presented with a credit card. It’s going to be a huge inconvenience to everyone, but they have decided to go this direction because we had three transactions in the last month reversed due to stolen credit card claims. It doesn’t matter if we compared credit card to ID at check-in… all the credit card company needs is a challenge by the card holder to refund the payment. If they signed the registration card differently than usual, they can claim stolen card and we are out the money. A photo copied ID helps hotels prevent fraud. The photo credit cards are wonderful though, and make things much simpler on both sides.

  19. @ travelingrd — I ended up showing my drivers license, but that’s a whole different story. I need to make a post about that, now that I think about it.

    @ tia — Interesting, but I do have one question. For the two hotels I’ve stayed at now that have photocopied ID’s, both offered to return the copies at check-out. I’m not sure how that would help them in the long run then, if I were to dispute a charge….

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