Cash Is King - Covid Edtion

 August 28, 2020  |  Ronin

Making consumer purchases with cash is the best strategy to maintain privacy. Most electronic purchases we make may potentially track the credit card number, rewards number, cell number if ever given, drivers license if swiped to validate identity with credit card, serial number, MAC address, and on cell devices, the IMEI number that can track your identity around the world.

Recently we were tasked with an Apple Store run to anonymously purchase some devices for a “under the radar” startup. The resource assigned to the mission (Django) was met at the Apple Store entrance by a mini maze of portable belt stanchions like at the movie theaters. At the entrance stood an Apple employee with an iPad. At the exit before entering the store was another Apple employee with a infrared temperature scanner. Approaching the first gate keeper Django was asked for an Apple ID to verify his registration. Ummmm excuse me proclaimed Django but I prefer not to identify myself by my apple ID. The Apple guy said, well we need a email address or cell number to enter you into our registration system and the next available appointment is in 3 days at 2:10 pm. But Apple guy said Django, The line is empty as well as the store. Sorry said the gatekeeper. These are the rules. Our client was anxious and the order was significant so Django hemmed and hawed then proceeded to spin up a virtual burner number on his mysudo app and “reserved” his slot.

Now in the Covid crazy black mirror stage of our world even making a private in store purchase is becoming almost impossible. How does one accomplish a anonymous transaction at an Apple Store? Perhaps after school starts and demand slows down walk-ins will be an option again. Until then if you want to be anonymous here are a some suggestions.

Friends and Family- Have a friend or family member either schedule the appointment for you or if they are comfortable with letting you use their ID then coordinate confirmation. Now with this plan DO NOT use this apple ID when you pay. Decline to provide your Apple ID. They will hem and haw but allow it. In our experience your reservation Apple ID is not automatically tied to the purchase.

Burner Apple ID- Create a burner Apple ID. I have heard of successful registrations while on wifi at Apple Stores however we have not verified this. My thought is one may need to gain wifi access with an Apple ID to request an Apple ID. If you create a burner ID elsewhere you will need a burner phone number. You can have Apple call a landline if you do not have a burner cell phone. We no longer use google voice so that may still work for a call. We have reports it may not work for a text verification. Typically we spin up a mysudo or a Twilio number (voice call). If any of this is not possible we encourage our clients to acquire a cheap burner phone with a tracfone SIM card and top up card. We can help you with that if anonymous registration is a concern. Almost all cell plans require online registration. A burner cell phone will always work (ecommerce not .gov agencies like the IRS)

Authorized Resellers- Best Buy, Costco, Target are great options. Now Costco will require a membership so you can go with a friend that has a membership. Best Buy is really easy to purchase in store without a reservation. Go first thing in the morning. Do not rely on website product availability. It is almost always incorrect. Good luck trying to call for availability confirmation. We would go into a Covid loop. After 10 menu selections deep the last message would say. “Due to Covid-19 and limited staff we can not return your call and please visit our website for price and availability”. The best strategy is to be prepared to visit multiple stores. Ask for help when you arrive. If they do not have it in stock then have them check their system for store availability AND have them call the store to verify. Staff have the secret back door number where a human will actually answer the phone. If the other store has the product and stock limited ask them to hold one and ask for the first name of the associate. If they have plenty in stock still get the associates first name for reference. If every angle hits a dead end you can also ask what day they get deliveries. We had to run this angle when we were purchasing a batch of Pixel 3a’s for a GrapheneOS project. The 4a was releasing and 3a availability was limited and GrapheneOS was not supported yet on 4a. Besides, the 4a was version one and we prefer to wait an iteration or two for the kinks to get worked out. It is also a good idea to build relationships with the staff for future “ask’s”. Another side note on Best Buy. A recent cash purchase of some iPhones required a Best Buy rewards number. We asked to decline and the associate could not complete the purchase. He even tried to input a bogus number but no luck. Now a manager may have been called to potentially override but we were in a hurry. The solution was to have the employee use his loyalty number which he was happy to offer. So if you go the Best Buy route be prepared. Personally we find them the best honoring our rigid requirements of privacy and working with our team. (aside from the loyalty number requirement).

One last pointer on private payments no matter which path you choose. Of course cash is king right? Well you need to plan ahead. Lobbies are closed and banks perhaps are limiting open hours. News reports suggest a shortage of coins. This at any time could also impact cash. Acquire your cash well ahead of the planned purchase. Avoid anything less than a $100 bill. We learned this the hard way. Purchasing $2,000 of product with 100 twenties is not optimal. Some stores may even not accept with the commonality of fakes. If possible go into the bank lobby. Ask for new $100 bills with security strip. That way there will be less hesitation from the store to accept. A contingency plan but bring your withdrawal slip as verification if the store has any hesitation with accepting the large stack of Benjamin’s.

Most important in all of this complicated process of private transactions. SAVE YOUR RECEIPT!! Your receipt is the only verification of your purchase if you have any future problems to resolve, no looking up by credit card number, phone number, rewards number, et cetera. Also make a habit of photocopying the receipt. Often times a thermal printed receipt will fade within a year. Make a photo copy then staple the original with the copy. An IRS audit or one year into a two year warranty bringing both for a claim will reduce the hassle. Having only a printed copy may raise suspicion or not even be accepted.

Paying with cash for retail purchases does provide the best layer of privacy. However with crazy Covid and our ever increasing limitations on the privacy of cash, one needs a firm plan and strategy to be successful. Plan, coordinate, be proactive and patient. You will be successful.