Lawsuit alleges retailers Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie unlawfully collected zip codes

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jun 25, 2013

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, popular retail stores among young adults and women, are facing a possible class action lawsuit for allegedly and unlawfully collecting customer zip codes.

Plaintiffs Whitney Hancock and Jamie White filed their 15-page complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Friday.

Hancock made a purchase, using her credit card, at Anthropologie. White made two purchases, also using a credit card, at Urban Outfitters. Both Pennsylvania-based companies are owned and managed by Urban Outfitters Inc.

While making their purchases, both Hancock and White allege they were asked for their zip codes.

The plaintiffs contend the retailers ask their customers for their zip codes "under the guise" that it is required when they make a purchase with a credit card.

"However, ZIP codes are not required when using a credit card. To the contrary, District of Columbia law forbids retailers from requesting or collecting such Consumer Identification Information during credit-card transactions," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs argue that the retailers, armed with customers' zip codes, can use the information to their own "pecuniary benefit," including by engaging in direct marketing campaigns without customers' permission.

"The retailers can do this, inter alia, by matching the customers' names with their ZIP codes to identify the customers' home/business address via commercially available databases," the complaint states. "Thus, once the customer provides his/her ZIP code, the retailers have all the information they need to secretly obtain customers' home/business address."

This type of merchant activity, they argue, has been unlawful in the District for at least 16 years.

"Defendants know, or should know, that it is illegal in the District of Columbia to ask for a consumer's ZIP code when the consumer chooses to pay by credit card," Hancock and White contend.

They even point to a Forbes article, published online just last week, cautioning readers not to give retailers their zip codes.

"Once a retailer has a customer's name (indicated on the credit card), and his or her ZIP code, it can determine their address," the complaint states.

"One commercially available product, called GeoCapture, explains the simplicity of the process: 'Users simply capture [sic] name from the credit card swipe and request a customer's ZIP code during the transaction. GeoCapture matches the collected information to a comprehensive consumer database to return an address."

Hancock and White are asking the federal court to certify the lawsuit as a class action; award statutory damages of $500 to each member of the class; award statutory treble damages or $1,500 -- whichever is greater -- for each violation of the District law during the class period; enjoin the defendants from requesting and collecting zip codes when customers choose to pay with a credit card; and award "reasonable" attorneys fees and costs.

Click here to read the full complaint.

Scott M. Perry and Mikhael D. Charnoff of Arlington, Va.-based Perry Charnoff PLLC are representing the plaintiffs.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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