You know when you're checking out at a store and the sales associate asks you for your zip code and you just rattle it off without giving their request a second thought? Well, apparently you can just be like, "No." And you probably should.
Your zip code isn't actually required for checking out with a credit card, and it sounds like I'm not the only fool who's been made to believe it is by retailers such as Urban Outfitters, who now face a class action lawsuit for giving that impression.
Law firm Perry Charnoff PLLC filed a lawsuit in Washington, DC alleging that Urban Outfitters (and Anthropologie) not only leads customers to believe zip codes are required, but also uses that information to “secretly obtain customers’ home/business address” and then either sell it to other parties or use it for marketing, Buzzfeed reports. It's become common knowledge pretty recently that when combined with information like your first and last name, it's not difficult for retailers to use your zip code to get even more personal details, like your home or work address.
This isn't the first time a retailer has come under fire for this. In California, over 50 class action lawsuits have been filed against retailers for zip code collection. The state supreme court ruled in 2011 that stores cannot require patrons to provide their ZIP code. The Massachusetts supreme court recently ruled similarly following a lawsuit against Michael's.
The defense of many of these retailers is that they use the information as market research, to know where their customers are located and what they're interested in--information that could help them decide where to open another store, for instance.
However, there's no way of knowing how else they're using it.
Since the laws vary state to state, we anticipate a lot more of these suits to be filed in the coming year. Hopefully, in addition to forcing states to enforce more stringent consumer privacy protection, the suits will inspire (or force) retailers to be more transparent about what exactly they're doing with our information.
Until then, feel free to politely decline to give out your zip code. Or make one up.