A Question that Shocks the Conscience: "And your ZIP code, sir?"


If you are a retailer who has customers in California, you need to familiarize yourself with the California Supreme Court’s decision in Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma Stores Inc. Essentially, any business policy that includes requesting and recording a consumer’s ZIP code in connection with a retail credit card transaction with California residents should be revised immediately.

In Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma Stores Inc., 2011 Cal. LEXIS 135 (Feb. 10, 2011), the California Supreme Court considered whether a person’s ZIP code constitutes “personal identification information” under the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act of 1971, Cal. Civ. Code §§1747 et seq. (“Credit Card Act”). Under the Credit Card Act, which was enacted to shield consumers from unfair business practices, businesses are prohibited from requiring consumers to provide "personal identification information" during credit card transactions and then storing that information (although the prohibition does not apply to transactions where the information is not written down or otherwise stored or recorded).

In this case, the plaintiff was required to provide her ZIP code to Williams-Sonoma in order to complete a credit card transaction. Her ZIP code was recorded and subsequently used to obtain her full address from a database (a consumer’s address and phone number are, in fact, included in the Credit Card Act’s definition of “personal identification information”). Williams Sonoma then used the address obtained from the database to market products to the plaintiff and also sold the information to third parties.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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