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Calif. Merchants Can't Ask for Customers' Zips

By Jason Beahm | Last updated on

"One cookbook and one set of wine glasses. That will be $120.17. What is your ZIP code?"

"My ZIP code? Why do you need that?"

"We put it in the computer for all transactions."

"Oh, alright. It's 92117."

Sound like a familiar routine? Lots of stores make it a routine to ask customers for their ZIP codes. But is that legal? Under the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act of 1971 retailers cannot record a customer's "personal identification information." But is a ZIP code personal identification information?

The California Supreme Court was called upon to answer that very question. The state high Court decided unanimously that the practice is illegal, Reuters Legal reports. According to the Court, under state law, businesses are barred from collecting personal identification information, which includes ZIP codes, the Los Angeles Times reports. Two lower courts had rejected the case, but the California Supreme Court found that it had merit.

The case began as a class action lawsuit filed against Williams-Sonoma Stores. An astute woman noted that the store asked her for her ZIP code when she bought something there and then used her name and zip code to locate her address. She claimed that her address was then stored in a database. She was particularly concerned that the store would sell her information to other businesses.

"The Legislature intended to provide robust consumer protections by prohibiting retailers from soliciting and recording information about the cardholder that is unnecessary to the credit card transaction," Justice Carlos R. Moreno wrote for the court, the Los Angeles Times reports.

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