Massachusetts Court: Retailers Can’t Ask For ZIP Codes To Verify Credit Card Purchases

Don’t want your mailbox crammed with circulars? Neither did a Massachusetts resident who used a credit card at Michaels and was asked for her ZIP code to complete the transaction in 2011. She’s not alone — a few years ago California ruled against retailers that asked customers for ZIP codes when using credit cards.

A state Supreme Court recently ruled in her favor, reports the Patriot Ledger. Michaels would allegedly use the ZIP code information to look up customers’ home addresses and phone numbers in order to send a barrage of unsolicited sales pitches.

The state court says that practice breaks Massachusetts’ consumer protection law, a ruling praised by consumer advocates.

“It’s a good, strong finding for consumers,” said the legislative director for the consumer group MassPIRG. “It’s right on the mark.”

The woman filed the class-action lawsuit in 2011 after she received phone and mail pitches she didn’t want as a result of providing her ZIP code. After this ruling, she’ll just receive the minimum damages of $25 for violation of privacy.

“Data mining is one of the more pernicious practices in which retailers engage, and retailers like Michaels use whatever means necessary to collect customer data so that they can better market their wares,”  her attorney wrote in the complaint.

Companies are forbidden from requesting personal information by state law, just as in many other states, unless that info is necessary in order to ship to a customer or if the retailer has included that in its credit card agreement.

Michaels argued that the policy was intended to prevent identity theft, but the court ruled that the law’s intent is to protect credit card users from unsolicited offers from merchants.

A critique we often hear of the practice is that customers feel pressured into giving that information while they’re in the middle of a transaction, and find it hard to just say no.

PreviouslyNew California ZIP Code Rule Results In Landslide of Lawsuits; California Court: Online Merchants Can Demand Personal Info To Verify Credit Card Purchases

*Thanks for the tip, John!

State Supreme Court rules that asking for customers’ ZIP codes is illegal [Patriot Ledger]