Giving out your ZIP code at the cash register may seem like a harmless move to help retailers figure out where to open a new location. But experts say it could leave consumers hit with a barrage of unwelcomed junk mail and worse -- it could be a violation of privacy laws.
Privacy advocates say that companies use ZIP codes to find out more about consumers so they can market directly to them.
Merchants pick up names, account numbers and expiration dates with each swipe of a credit card, but ZIP codes are the missing piece of the puzzle that helps them figure out mailing addresses, phone numbers and demographic information, according to NBC News.
"Just say no," advises Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit watchdog group based in San Diego, Calif.
Courts in two states, Massachusetts and California, have declared the practice of asking for ZIP codes a violation of privacy laws, NBC News reported.
Merchants, however, argue that customers benefit from the practice.
“Asking for generic information helps retailers tailor merchandise, customize advertising and marketing -- promotions, deals and coupons -- and individualizes services,” said Stephen Schatz, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, in a statement to NBC News.
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