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The Complete Guide to Consumer's Privacy

 Have you ever been asked for your ZIP code by a cashier? This would happen when you're paying for your goods at the register. Did you feel comfortable giving out that information? Did it seem crucial for the money transaction? If you're questioning the importance of your ZIP code to the completion of the credit card transaction, you're right to do so. While this is legal, there are some reservations to it, and if you're sensitive about your privacy and want to know what can be done, read on. 

Why Do They Need My ZIP?

credit card transaction

As always when it comes to money, the answer isn't so simple. Sometimes a retailer really does need it and sometimes not.
When is my ZIP code mandatory?
At the gas station, it is mandatory for the completion of the transaction. This is because your ZIP code functions here as identity verification to make sure the card is yours and you are authorized to use it, as there is no clerk to check this. 
Another case is strictly for American Express credit card users. If you use American Express you may be obligated to give the ZIP code for security purposes, but the store is restricted from using or storing it. 
There is one more reason why you may have to give your ZIP code away: if your credit card doesn't swipe properly, the store would need that extra information from you to verify you are authorized to use the card. 

 

What do retailers do with it?
Increase earnings and improve service. Let's break it down. When a retailer has your full name (from your credit card) and your ZIP code, they can combine that information to retrieve your full mailing address and phone number from commercial databases. You can expect unwanted junk mail, and your private information sold to data brokers and other marketers for further marketing use.
But, giving away that information can also benefit you as a consumer. How so? Collecting data about area-specific sales can help the company bring the best-selling products to the stores for each area. In other words, the retailer can make sure the store has the product that local consumers want. 

 

So this is legal?
Not entirely. If it is not for the reasons mentioned above, you are simply not obligated to give that information away. If you arrive at the register and are told that the ZIP code is mandatory for the transaction, know that a few major companies (Urban Outfitters, Michael's) got sued in court for it, and the court ruled that ZIP codes are personal identification information that is secured by consumer protection laws. That is because, as mentioned before, when combined with a consumer's name, it can provide further information such as address and phone number. 

Can We Withold This Information?

information privacy illustration
Now that you have all the information, let's move on to practice. How can you politely decline to give away information without causing unwanted conflict? First of all, know that if you're paying with cash you can be calm about giving away your ZIP code, as the store does not have your name.
 
We would suggest always avoiding conflict. Most stores won't insist, but if they do, simply ask why is it necessary, to make sure you are not obligated to give it away, and once you're sure, politely decline. They should process the sale anyway. Paul Stephens, the director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, says you can even make one up. Just throw numbers! 

What About Online Shopping?

credit card transaction
When it comes to online shopping, giving away your ZIP is almost inevitable as you do want the package to find its way to your home. If this is an online store you only purchase from once, you can ask them not to save your information. Most stores ask that and you can decline. We would suggest agreeing, though, when it's in a website you shop at frequently, for your own convenience: instead of having to type it in every time, it is already safely stored in your password-protected account. 
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