Recent California Supreme Court Ruling Drives Lawsuits

by High Yield Savings Accounts

After a ruling in February in the California Supreme Court, it is now illegal for a retailer in the state to request the zip code of customers paying with a credit card. Apparently this information was being used for marketing purposes although consumers were led to believe otherwise. The result: more than 150 class-action lawsuits have been filed in California against numerous companies. The retailers include Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, Bed Bath & Beyond and Wal-Mart.

More than 40 of these lawsuits were filed in San Francisco Superior Court but include other jurisdictions in California as well.

Consumers claim the basis for these lawsuits is they were deceived into providing personal information under the assumption it was pertinent to finalizing the credit card transaction or for fraud prevention. Instead, consumers are learning this information seems to have been used for marking purposes.

The court ruled that collecting zip codes is illegal under a law that bars stores from collecting “personal identification information” when it is not needed for a transaction. The law was originally put in place to prevent customers’ personal data from being misused. But that is the same justification stores are using for taking zip codes; they say it is an anti-fraud measure.

In the Supreme Court Case, Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma Stores, Inc., a woman sued the home store Williams-Sonoma after the company used her name and zip code to find her address and added it to a marketing database.

Clearly most consumers would not have divulged personal information, such as their zip code, if they knew what it was really being used for. Stores in California certainly won’t be asking for zip codes moving forward, but that isn’t enough for many consumers who feel they’ve been violated and deceived in a big way.

Bill Dombrowski, president of the California Retailers Association told The San Francisco Examiner: “Most of the time, it’s being used to verify the credit card is your credit card, so it’s for fraud prevention.”

But the California Supreme Court disagrees.


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