Skip navigation

Gentle January

Lie About Your Birthday 🎂

It’s used to verify your identity in sensitive situations, and retailers don’t need to know

Digital illustration of the words “Gentle January” over a field of pixelated flowers; in the right-hand corner there is the number “18” placed on a stack of post-its
Gabriel Hongsdusit

The Gentle January series shares one practical privacy tip a day from a Markup staffer who actually uses the advice in their own life.

Getting presents on your birthday can be really fun.

So I can understand if, when companies have asked you for your date of birth (so they can send you something special on your special day!), you shrugged and thought, “eh, what’s the harm,” and handed your data over.

But your birth date, like your phone number (get a burner number), is personal information that scammers can use to steal your identity or target you for fraud. Think back: How many times have you been asked to verify your date of birth in serious situations, like when recovering your login from your bank, or getting your medical information from your doctor office? 

Is getting free stuff on your birthday worth taking that risk? For me, the answer is no. 

That’s why I lie about my birthday on the Internet.

Now, there’s an art to this, so here are some general rules and tips.

  1. I only lie about my birthday when it’s a company trying to use that data to get me to buy more stuff from them. Do not lie about your birthday to your doctor. Or your bank. Or when you’re trying to get your driver’s license. You get my point.
  2. If you want to receive these promotions at the same time as your birthday, pick a fake birthday close to your real one. For example, if my birthday was December 13, 1989, like Taylor Swift, I could pick the first of the month, December 1, 1989, as my fake birthday. Or December 25, if I wanted everything to come around Christmas. Most companies run their birthday promotions for the entire birthday month, so you can still decide to use their promos on your actual birthday.
  1. Go back into your existing retail accounts, remove your real birthday and submit a fake one.
  2. But don’t be a jerk about it. Companies are on the lookout for people who try to change their birthday multiple times per year and double or triple dip. Pick a fake birthday and don’t change it again.
  1. When you’re creating new retail accounts in the future, remember to use your fake birthday the first time around.
  2. Finally, when I’m at a restaurant that gives birthday discounts and the only person who sees my birthday is the staff member glancing at my ID, I don’t worry about it.

On a more serious note, a tip for anyone looking to do more to protect their privacy is to be generally resistant toward giving out any personal information. For example, my dentist doesn’t need to know my social security number. Even if the front desk asks for it on the intake form, I don’t fill out information I don’t think they need. If you ever see something on a form that you feel hesitant to give out, don’t. Ask why the office or person or company needs that information from you. Or just ignore it until you’re asked for it directly, and then ask them why they need it.

Alright, now that I’ve turned you into a fake-birthday-creating, personal-information-protecting skeptic, go get that free birthday gift from Sephora, or the just-for-me birthday discount code at Midtown Comics, or some free birthday hot pot at 99 Favor Taste.

We don't only investigate technology. We instigate change.

Your donations power our award-winning reporting and our tools. Together we can do more. Give now.

Donate Now