Massachusetts Court Bars ZIP Codes at Checkout for Credit Purchases

Published March 20, 2013

Consumers in Massachusetts no longer have to give their ZIP code information when making a credit card transaction. The Massachusetts Supreme Court unanimously ruled ZIP codes are considered private information under the state’s consumer privacy laws.

The lawsuit was Melissa Tyler vs. Michaels Stores, which Tyler filed against the retailer for collecting her ZIP code during a credit card transaction as if it were required to complete the purchase. She claims the retailer used her name and ZIP code to find her address and send unsolicited junk mail, violating the state law banning the collection of personal information.

The Massachusetts law states:

“No person, firm, partnership, corporation or other 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, not required by the credit card issuer, on the credit card transaction form. Personal identification information shall include, but shall not be limited to, a credit card holder’s address or telephone number. The provisions of this section shall apply to all credit card transactions; provided, however, that the provisions of this section shall not be construed to prevent a person, firm, partnership, corporation or other business entity from requesting information necessary for shipping, delivery or installation of purchased merchandise or services or for a warranty when such information is provided voluntarily by a credit cardholder.”

California Includes ZIPs

Currently, California is the only other state that includes ZIP codes as personal information, the result of a 2011 state Supreme Court ruling. However, the rulings in these two states may be enough to cause national retailers that are seeking uniformity to change their policies in stores across the country.

When you swipe a credit card at the cash register, the merchant has a record of your name and card number. But privacy rights advocates say giving your ZIP code provides a way for merchants to piece together where you live as well as demographic information about you. Merchants can then send you catalogs, promotions, and other information that you never requested.