Store wants your ZIP code? Just say no

Retailers want that information for reasons that may not be apparent to you.

By Karen Datko May 11, 2011 2:22PM

Updated May 30, 2012, 2:17 p.m. ET

 

Image: Customer Giving Clerk Credit Card (© Fuse/Getty Images)Why does a store clerk ask for your ZIP code when you buy something with a credit card?

 

Here's one answer you might not like: Knowing your name and ZIP code allows a retailer to easily find your entire address so they can send you lots of junk mail and also sell your address to other marketers.


Not exactly the reason you thought, eh? It seems that many people think stores use ZIP codes to figure out where customers are coming from or to confirm that you and your credit card are a match.

 

In fact, there are several reasons why you should say no when a store clerk asks for your ZIP code or any other personal information. (Post continues below.)

The store's agreement with the credit card company does not require it. CreditCards.com said:

Visa and MasterCard state in their merchant rules that if the back of the card is signed, a merchant may not make giving personal information a condition of making the sale. If the card is not signed, they may ask for identifying information. American Express requires merchants to check only the signature on the back of the card and does not require any additional identification. Discover does not prohibit a merchant from asking for such information, a spokeswoman said.

Retailers can ask for ID if they have good reason to think you're using the card fraudulently.

It may be against state law. The little-known reason stores want credit card customers' ZIP codes came to light after a California woman sued Williams-Sonoma over the issue. The California Supreme Court agreed that asking for a ZIP code violates a state law prohibiting retailers from requesting personal identification information from credit card customers. (The ruling does not apply to credit card sales at the gas pump, where you might be required to punch in your ZIP code to process the payment. That info isn't kept by the station.)

 

You could be exposing yourself to possible identity theft. In fact, there are very few reasons to share any type of personal information with retailers. CreditCards.com said:

Consumer advocates advise just saying no when asked to give information beyond what is necessary for a transaction -- an address for shipping purposes or a Social Security number if you're opening a line of credit, for instance.

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103Comments
May 12, 2011 7:53PM
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It's your basic case of retailers intruding on our lives.  I don't know if they still do because I haven't shopped there for a long time, but Radio Shack was horrible.  Any time you bought something there, they insisted on name and address, even if it was a cash purchase.  They were so obnoxious about it, rather than debate with them, I just started using phony info.  Thus, the reason I finally quit shopping there. 
May 20, 2011 2:00PM
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Whenever I go shopping at the mall and retailer asks for any of my information I politely say "no thank you." I've gotten weird looks and some have told me that they need it to complete the purchase [I still refuse to give it to them]. They should just make sure the purchase is actually being paid for. What really gets me, is why do they need your phone number of all things? That's a definite no.
May 20, 2011 2:52PM
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I give a fake zipcode and phone number.
Jul 7, 2011 4:11PM
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I ALWAYS give my zip code as 94974. it's to San Quentin (they have their own zip). Always get strange looks from the sales clerk and they don't mess with me.
Jul 7, 2011 11:02AM
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So why do stores want my zip code when I pay cash for merch? I don't use credit cards at all!Confused
Jul 7, 2011 8:22PM
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As a cashier, I don't ask for personal info unless specifically prompted.  However, some POS systems don't let you continue with a transaction until information is put in -- it's easy enough to fake a number, but frankly, I like having a paycheck, meager as it may well be.  So if my boss wants me to ask when it prompts, I ask when it prompts.  I'm not here to hassle anyone more than any customers are here to hassle cashiers, but please recognize that cashiers are effectively grunts -- customer service cannon fodder.  We have absolutely zero say in anything at all, and if you don't follow the rules, they can and will fire you in a heartbeat, and replace you with someone else for $.50/hr cheaper that doesn't ask questions.  The situation sucks all around.

If anything, write your congressman and tell the freaking corporations that are mandating these stupid policies to get with the damn times, so stuff like this doesn't keep happening.

May 22, 2011 7:14AM
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I always say 90210, beverly hills baby!, ok maybe beverly hills trailer court...lmao
Jul 28, 2011 11:44AM
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I don't care why anyone asks for it - it isn't relevant to purchasing from their store, so they don't get it.  If a sale is refused because of that, I don't care, there's always another store happy to take my money.
May 23, 2011 9:33AM
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I always give fake zip code and my childhood phone number when asked for this info. My other pet peeve is when I have to return a item that I paid cash for with the receipt  they want to see my ID (driver license) . I paid cash! You didn't ask to see it when I use the good american dollar then did they?
Jul 7, 2011 1:42PM
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To the commenter who said that zip codes are to protect the business from fraud. Maybe... but Credit card companies could do a lot more to prevent fraud.  They don't though, because they're afraid of inconveniencing their customers.  However, they're not afraid to collect 25% interest to cover their loses that they're too cheap or lazy to investigate and prosecute.  I'd gladly use a credit card that had a hologram of my picture on it and required a PIN because I don't like giving out my personal information that isn't absolutely necessary.
Jul 7, 2011 2:49PM
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This is a misleading story in a way. Radio Shack asks for your personal information (zip code, phone number, etc.) whether you are paying with credit card or cash. The only reason stores ask for this is to get demographic information and/or be able to send you flyers. You are never required to give them any of this information...especi​ally if you are only there to buy batteries. Just tell them you'd rather not divulge that information, if they give you a hard time, walk out. See how fast they change their tune when you put your wallet away...especially if there is a manager in the store.

 

Money changes everything.

Jul 7, 2011 1:05PM
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Many fuel companies are using zip code verification at the fuel pumps as a fraud protection technique.  If the billing zip code of the card is not entered or not entered correctly, the customer is prompted to complete the transaction inside where a cashier can confirm identity (signature match, ID check etc). 

 

To answer a previous comment, yes, the transaction will be declined at the pump if you enter an erroneous zip code.

Jul 7, 2011 11:33PM
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When asked for a Zip Code, I always reply "No, thank you." Believe me, I have gotten a lot of strange looks with this reply. As for those who insist, I explain that I do not give out that information. For those that persist, I say, "Thank you for asking. You have helped me make a decision to shop elsewhere." I then leave the store. Vote with your money, keep smiling, and help end this practice once and for all. 
Jul 7, 2011 4:06PM
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No offense to cashiers and clerks, but do you really think corporate would tell you the real reasons they do certain things in their business?  I don't want junk mail, I don't want phone calls and I certainly don't need spam in my email.  People shouldn't be rude about it if they choose to decline giving the information, but I get rude cashiers who get upset if I tell them I don't give out that information.  It's a two-way street.  Besides, if you are a cashier, why do you care if I say "no thank you"?   
Jul 7, 2011 12:00PM
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Gas pumps and other readers where you swipe the card yourself (and online transactions) require the ZIP code match the zip code on your billing address.  you put in the wrong ZIP, and the transaction will be declined.  The theory is that only you know the correct ZIP code for your card, so if the right ZIP is entered, it has to be you.
Jul 7, 2011 8:18AM
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I am wondering if half the people on this board read the article. Namely those that appear to work for a store that does this claiming the store doesn't want it or that they don't see the info. Seriously people stop it. If the store wasn't using it then why are theyasking. As the article says it isn't required by the card company. Those claiming they are wanting it for knowing where to spend ad dollars...stop already. That is done according to income. Lowes in Louisville Ky. have a lot of things on the shelf in the wealthy white neighborhoods ( I am one) and in the lower income areas ( my mothers) they have to special order it  for you. Also oddly the prices are a little lower in the wealthy area! So spare me the noble ideas. THey use it to sell as the article says. Once the card reader has the name and phone number or zip it matches you up quicker and easier to sell to others. Oh and as proof Lowes NEVER puts a circular in the mail box. It is in the paper and there is typically only one paper per city and at best two. Even then it is done by amount of subscribers. So let me have you phone number to pass out and quit complaining when they call at dinner time !
Jul 7, 2011 3:41PM
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To all you employees out there, this article states that it isn't neccesary, sometimes isn't legal, and is used to send us junkmail.  If you ask and I tell you no, I'm not "hassling" you as someone says and just because your boss told you one thing, doesn't mean its the truth.  I'm going to tell you no because its safest for ME, getting my money is all you need to do and if you don't like it, get a job somewhere else!

May 20, 2011 4:01PM
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K-Mart always asked for it but I just pressed cancel and didn't have to enter it anymore.
May 21, 2011 11:13PM
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None of the places I worked asked for the zip code so they could track you down.  We asked everybody for their zip code so the company  would know if their radio and television commercials were being effective.  Some people would be so freaking rude about it when all they had to do was say they didn't want to provide that info.
Jul 7, 2011 1:14PM
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I am still just as much in the dark about why they ask for our zip codes as I was before I read this article and the responses. Amazingly, no one seems to know! They ask for our zips when we pay with cash, so there is no way they are mailing stuff to people with only a zip code to go by.
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