“Excuse me, may I have your zip code?” We’ve all had the question at the checkout register. It seems innocent, but could there be something more behind it than a retailer collecting basic demographic data to figure out if they need to open up a store in a new area?
The Los Angeles Times reports consumers are suing retailers over the practice of collecting zip codes at the point of sale because it violates California state law. (The practice is not, however, illegal in every state.)
When a retailer has your zip code, coupled with your first and last name from your credit card transaction, they can access a full dossier on you that includes your full address and possible other demo data. They typically will use that info to barrage you with mailing list stuff that you haven’t asked for and all the rest.
What seems like completely disconnected and unrelated data — your name and zip code — actually unlocks the key to full info on you. So what should you do now that you know? What I have done is when I’m asked at the register for my zip code, I give a zip code from when I lived in Washington D.C. a zillion years ago.
Know that there are exceptions to the general rule that you should be skeptical of giving your zip code at the point of purchase. For example, when I use my American Express card they have the anti-fraud thing with the keypad to punch in my zip. And you’ll also have to enter your zip code when you’re paying at the gasoline pump with plastic because that’s a high-risk transaction for credit card companies.
But at the register, be aware and be wary before you give that info!