Jul. 19--QUESTION: Is it legal for a business to print your entire debit or credit-card number on a receipt? If it is not legal, whom would you report this to? I thought that this was no longer allowed, but when I went on vacation in Tennessee, I received one with all my numbers on it. -- C.I.Y.
     ANSWER: When a customer pays with a credit card, the customer is typically presented with a receipt to sign, and then is given a copy. Sometimes the copy is a duplicate of the merchant's receipt. Sometimes, the customer copy is printed out separately by the cash register.
     The merchant's copy of the receipt that is given to the customer to sign can have all the digits of the credit-card number. The merchant keeps that copy, and the merchant needs the numbers.
     A federal law that took effect on Dec. 1, 2006, makes it illegal for an electronically printed customer receipt to have all of the credit-card or debit-card digits. The customer's copy of the receipt should have no more than five digits of the credit-card number. This is to prevent fraud.
     But the law makes exceptions for hand-printed receipts and receipts that use an imprint of the card.
     If you would like to file a complaint about this with the Federal Trade Commission, you can go to www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).
     This happened to you out of state. But North Carolina passed a similar law that took effect in 2004. Violations in North Carolina can be reported to the consumer-protection division of the N.C. Attorney General's Office at 877-566-7226.
     Q. I received an e-mail saying that it's a good idea to cover up the Vehicle Identification Number on my car's dashboard. It said that car thieves can use the number to have the car dealership make a duplicate key. Is this true? -- A.G.
     A. This e-mail has been circulating for years. Although the scenario it describes can happen, it happens so rarely that experts say that covering up the VIN is not an effective way to prevent car theft.
     The Urban Legends Reference Pages at www.snopes.com cites a 2002 case in which a multistate car-theft ring used VINs to create fake titles for cars at used-car lots. The thief then would take the title to a dealership and report that the car's key had been lost. Because they had "proof" that they owned the car, the dealership would make a key. The thief would then take the key back to the used-car lot and drive away.
     But the majority of car thieves do not operate in such an elaborate way. Most car thieves "don't want to have to go around recording VINs, forging documents, calling attention to themselves and risking exposure by showing their faces at auto dealerships, waiting around for keys to be made, and hoping the cased cars are still where they found them when they finally return with their duplicate keys," Snopes says.
     Instead, car thieves tend to look for cars that can be taken quickly and easily.
     More effective ways to prevent car theft include always locking your car; parking in secure, well-lighted spots; and using anti-theft devices, "such as alarms, tracking devices or devices that prevent the use of the steering wheel, accelerator or brakes," said an expert consulted by The Washington Post for a 2005 article about the VIN e-mail.
     Q. What are the present laws concerning the ownership/purchase/possession of such weapons as a gun silencer or a fully automatic machine gun? My son was told that recent changes in laws made the ownership legal in North Carolina. I am a retired officer, and I have questions concerning this. When I was working, some of these weapons were classified as weapons of mass destruction and only the military or special-forces persons could possess them. -- J.H.
     A. North Carolina law generally prohibits private ownership of machine guns and silencers. That has not changed.
     The N.C. Department of Justice has a guide to the state's firearms laws available online at www.jus.state.nc.us/NCJA/ncfirearmslaws.pdf. It states: "North Carolina General Statute 14-288.8 provides that it is unlawful for any person to manufacture, assemble, possess, store, transport, sell, offer to sell, purchase, offer to purchase, deliver, give to another, or acquire any weapon of mass death and destruction."
     Weapons of mass death and destruction include "any firearm capable of fully automatic fire," such as a machine gun, as well as "any muffler or silencer for any firearm," the law says.
     But it does make some exceptions. For example, it exempts soldiers and law-enforcement officers who are carrying out their duties. It also exempts "importers, manufacturers, dealers, and collectors of firearms, ammunition, or destructive devices validly licensed under the laws of the United States or the State of North Carolina, while lawfully engaged in activities authorized under their licenses."
     E-mail: AskSAM@wsjournal.com.
     Online: www.journalnow.com/asksam.
     Write: Ask SAM, P.O. Box 3159, Winston-Salem, NC 27102

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