ZIP Code Suit

Class action filed against California gasoline retailers

LOS ANGELES -- A consumer protection lawsuit was filed Monday accusing California's largest gas station chains of violating the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act by requiring customers who pay with credit cards to type theirZIP codes into a keypad, then electronically recording and transferring that information.

Under California law, merchants are permitted to request personal identification information from a buyer paying with a credit card; however, the Song-Beverly Act prohibits merchants from recording such information or requiring the customer to do so.

A California [image-nocss] court had previously ruled thatZIP codes were not "personal identification information." Many gas stations in the state require customers to key in theirZIP code as part of the payment process, said the San Clemente, Calif.-based firm of Schwartz Law PC; however, last week the California Supreme Court held thatZIP codes are "personal identification information" protected by the Song-Beverly Act, it said.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of private citizen John Flores III,Los Angeles,alleges that Chevron, ConocoPhillips (Conoco, Phillips 66 and Union 76), ExxonMobil (Exxon, Mobil), Shell, Tesoro (USA Gasoline) and Thrifty gasoline stations, both corporate-owned and franchised, violated the Song-Beverly Act by requiring customers to type in theirZIP code then recording that information electronically and sending it to a credit-card processing site.

The Song-Beverly Act provides for civil penalties of up to $1,000 for each repeat violation. The defendant oil companies may be liable for up to a billion dollars a day, the law firm said, making this one of the largest consumer class actions in history.
"The desired outcome is to force the defendants to obey and law and pay the civil penalties they owe for their past failure to do so," attorney Jeffrey M. Scwartz told CSP Daily News.

Click here to view the text of the lawsuit.