Hey! Can I Check Out Your Zip Code?

Do store clerks still ask you for your zip code when you pay with a credit card? Did you know that your zip code and name is enough for businesses to access your other personal information, including your address and phone number?

In 2013 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the your zip code is a piece of legally protected, “personal identification information.” Tyler v. Michaels Stores Inc., 464 Mass. 492 (2013). A consumer protection law requires that no “person…or…business entity that accepts a credit card for a business transaction shall write, cause to be written or require that a credit card holder write personal identification information… on the credit card transaction form.” G.L. c. 93A, § 105(a).

That means that a consumer can sue a business for a privacy violation if a business records the consumer’s zip code information in a credit card transaction— but only if causes “the consumer some kind of separate identifiable harm arising from the violation itself.” Tyler, 464 Mass. at 503. The injury does not need to be financial— the S.J.C. reasoned that section 105(a) is “intended primarily to address invasion of consumer privacy by merchants, not identify fraud.” Id. at 501.

The S.J.C. identified two possible types of non-financial “harm” from violations of this statute:

“[T]he actual receipt by a consumer of unwanted marketing materials as a result of the merchant’s unlawful collection of the consumer’s personal identification information; and…

“[T]he merchant’s sale of a customer’s personal identification information or the data obtained from that information to a third party.”

Id. at 503-504. Subsequent cases have emphasized that consumers bringing claims for violations of section 105(a) must bring clear evidence of the harm— not just claim that they have been injured.

With identity fraud on the rise, it is increasingly important to protect the privacy of your personal information. If you have questions about how your zip code or other personal information might have been used or misused by a business, contact the attorneys at Hutchins Law, P.C.

The purpose of this article is to inform our clients of developments in the law and to provide information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or to assume a client relationship. The content of this article could be considered advertising under the rules of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Copyright © 2012 Hutchins Law, P.C. All Rights Reserved.