The price of loyalty cards: Just rewards?

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - My wallet is loaded with dozens of yellow and green and red cards. The less used get bundled, but they're always with me. I've got them for grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants and retail stores. It's how I saved 55% on my grocery bill this week.

Most loyalty cards typically require the same type of information. Your name, address, birthday, and ages of your children. Each card has a privacy agreement about what can be done with your personal information.

Stores analyze buying data with the hopes of more efficient advertising and marketing. But it's more than how many times a week you buy bread and milk. Not only are they compiling data on what you buy, but also the day, the time and how you pay for it. Over time that builds a valuable profile of you. So should you worry about the safety of the info collected?

Most privacy agreements state that a business won't give or sell any identifying information for marketing purposes, but security breaches are becoming commonplace, like the most recent Sony hack that left 100 million accounts vulnerable. And what happens when stores close down? Assets get purchased including your personal data. Information can't be given away, but according to consumer affairs, it can be subpoenaed for situations like custody hearings or criminal prosecution.

There are several websites that connect your loyalty card to their programs for digital coupons and rebates. Now a third party is involved in the transaction and you have no idea what they can do with your spending data.

Keep in mind, I'm a diehard couponer and by using cards, I get special offers in the mail on things like produce and meats that typically won't have a coupon. This week with the card and coupons, I saved $145 off of a $270 bill. To me, saving money like that is worth giving up a little on my end.

You can find out what kind of data a store is keeping on you. Each store is unique, so you'll have to call or visit their customer service representatives or press office. Ask how the store controls your information, how it's maintained and that you'd like a copy of all of your information on file.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.