You might have thought nothing of stores asking for your ZIP code when you’re making a purchase. After all, it’s just the general location of where you live, right?

According to privacy experts, giving out your ZIP code might reveal more about you than you intend to reveal.

In a recent interview with NBC’s Today show, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Policy and Advocacy Director Paul Stephens advised customers against offering up their ZIP codes. He said when paired with information like the customer’s name on a credit card, these ZIP codes can help identify the person’s actual address and target them with marketing materials, like junk mail.

Stores Asking for ZIP Codes in Credit Card Transactions Can Find Addresses for Marketing

(Photo: Shutterstock.com)

According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse’s fact sheet on the topic, merchants cannot legally require of consumers:

  • Any personal information, including address and telephone number, on any form associated with the credit card transaction when the consumer uses a credit card to pay for goods or services;
  • Personal information that the merchant then records; or
  • Forms with pre-printed spaces for personal information.

There are exceptions to the above, like allowing collection of ZIP codes for gasoline “pay at the pump” transactions. This information though can only be used for fraud, theft and identity theft prevention.

The fact sheet also references a case where the California Supreme Court ruled that merchants cannot ask customers for ZIP codes in credit card transactions because Williams Sonoma was using the information to locate specific addresses to send catalogs to customers who never provided an address for it in the first place.

Today brought up a more recent ruling in Massachusetts involving Michaels craft stores and a similar practice.

“Obviously, if I go into a store and I make a purchase, I don’t expect – unless I sign up for a mailing list – that I’m going to start receiving catalogs from the store,” Stephens said.

Watch Today’s segment on this topic:

There are legitimate reasons that might require ZIP codes for transactions, like for security purposes or online purchases. In these cases though, the information would not be stored for use in a company’s marketing.

Overall though, if you’re asked for your ZIP code during a credit card transaction and do not want to receive what you might consider junk mail, “just say no,” Stephens said.

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse’s fact sheet also cautions customers about electronic receipts, which are becoming a more prevalent option as some stores try to switch to a paperless system.

“Collection of the customer’s email address in conjunction with a credit card payment in these circumstances may be unlawful,” the fact sheet stated. Learn more about the law regarding these cases here.

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Featured image and carousel photo via Shutterstock.com. 

This story has been updated to correct a typo. 

(H/T: Daily Mail)