Zip code ruling confuses those at the pump

February 24, 2011 8:48:05 PM PST
A recent court ruling preventing retailers from collecting customers' zip codes has left some people confused. They've been asking 7 On Your Side for help.

The courts ruled that retailers are not allowed to ask consumers for their zip code, but it isn't quite that simple.

Merchants are not allowed to ask for and record personal information when you use a credit card. Last week the courts ruled that a zip code is personal information. So retail clerks in the pharmacy can't ask, but what about the service station?

"I was watching your program on Channel 7 and I saw your original broadcast pertaining to your report and that triggered my question into you, 'Is this still legal?'" said Donald Ansok from Saratoga.

That question came into 7 On Your Side many times. At most service stations once a credit card is inserted in the pump, there is a request for a zip code. Is that legal?

"The gas station request is legitimate," said Joe Ridout with Consumer Action. "Since the gas stations are not recording your zip code, but just using it electronically to verify that this card is an active card number, that is not going to be affected by this as far as we could tell."

For 40 years California merchants haven't been allowed to ask for personal information just because you're using a credit card and Ridout says this court ruling gets it right, because the zip code was actually being matched with the name on the credit card, and the customers was being stalked by marketing materials.

"This had nothing to do with security and nothing to do with preventing fraud on the sale and everything to do with trying to solicit someone's private information in a very deceptive fashion," said Ridout.

Which brings us back to Ansok, and how does he feel about the gas station being allowed to ask.

"That is fine with me, just as long as it prevents fraud, that is the main thing," said Ansok.

So the information isn't being collected by the gas station, but by the credit card company which already has the information, so everything is on the up and up when a zip code is requested at the pump.


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