<I>Too</I> Many Happy Returns

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The holiday season may not be so jolly for some shoppers trying to make returns after Christmas.

The Early Show consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen reports that a growing number of retailers are cracking down on "serial returners" -- people who repeatedly return or exchange items.

The stores are keeping track of how many times you make returns -- and you could be put on what amounts to a blacklist, and be denied when you try to return something. The more items you return, the greater the odds of your landing on that list, Koeppen points out.

The data is collected for retailers by an Irvine, California company called The Return Exchange. Customers making returns are asked to swipe their drivers' licenses; the license information is then stored and tracked.

The retailers, Koeppen explains, are tired of fraud. They're tired of people ripping them off. The retail industry loses billions of dollars each year because of "return fraud."

There are people who steal merchandise and then try to return it. Some customers "rent" merchandise. For instance, they buy a dress, wear it, then return it. Stores are targeting people who abuse the system.

Curbing fraud also helps keep prices down, retailers say.

Unfortunately, good shoppers will be denied a return from time to time.

There is no law that says stores have to allow returns; it's really a courtesy to customers. Stores can say all sales are final. But most do have return policies.

If stores ask for your drivers license every time you make a return, or you have to fill out a lot of paperwork when you make a return, they might be tracking you. But you need to ask. Ask the store about their return policy. Read the back of receipts. Look for signs on the wall.

You could also call The Return Exchange directly via a toll-free number (800-652-2331) to ask if you're on the blacklist. Or you could email the company at ReturnActivityReport@TheReturnExchange.com.

Koeppen happens to make what she describes as "a ton of returns," but called and was told she's not on the list.

So what can you do if you're a good customer, but are denied permission to make returns, anyway?

"Fight it," Koeppen urges. "Ask to speak to the manager. Explain that you are good customer. If that doesn't work -- write a letter to the company and complain.

The collection of data by The Return Exchange has some privacy advocates worried. But the company's Web site says, " Access to information in this database is limited to the company (retailer) that provided the data to TRE." It says the data isn't shared with or sold to any other parties, including credit agencies.

TRE stresses that its database is protected by state-of-the art security technology.

Among the criteria TRE says it doesn't track are age, gender, race, nationality, physical characteristics and martial status.