Handing Your ZIP Code Over To Cashiers Means More Junk Mail For You


If you’re anything like me, you smile whenever you get mail, junk or not. You sniff it a little because it’s real and not email. You rub your cheek against it. You…

Okay… maybe I don’t go that far, but you get the idea. Mail is a coveted rarity in this day and age, but even too much of a sort-of good thing can be overwhelming, especially if you’re NOT like me and don’t like reading through pathetic marketing campaigns and attempts to grab your attention to get in a daily laugh.

New research says that when cashiers asks for your ZIP code, they aren’t just “doing an area survey” or whatever crap they tell you if you ask – they’re actually just being super sneaky ninjas and collecting information that will help them send more spam to your door (and make more cold calls to your phone, too).

The data that you give cashiers, unless they very distinctly say otherwise, will be collected and sold to marketing companies. Then those marketing companies figure out what you want from the bill you ran up (yes, they get that too) and start targeting your area with their new “buy it now” marketing campaigns.

Have you ever heard of the Internet bubble? You know, the one that bases ads you see and suggested product purchases based on what you’ve typed in before, and what you’ve bought before, and what you’ve searched before? Google will even adjust the order in which pictures pop up on its Google Images site depending on what it “thinks” you want to see.

So, this is basically just like that, only it’s been happening a lot longer, and it’s a little creepier. You can ignore targeted ads on the side of your Web page (AdBlock, baby!), but it’s a litter harder to just hit the spam button on junk mail that’s physically in your hands.

And people are starting to recognize this, too. In fact, to date, two states have already banned collecting ZIP codes at the front register. Why? Because when you get swiped, merchants gets your name and credit card number. That’s it. But when you give them your ZIP code, they can find you.

Though it’s illegal to spam people unsolicited because of the “can-spam” act, technically swiping your card means you’re “opting-in,” and people can sell your information to whomever they want, whenever they want.

Pretty sucky, right? The courts agree with you, because just last week a judge in Massachusetts found that a ZIP code is “personal identification” because someone complained about Michael’s, an arts and crafts chain. The customer said she received materials that she didn’t ask for in the mail once she provided her ZIP code to employees.

I think what trips me out about this the most is that no one has noticed up to this point. Michael’s must have pulled this stunt hundreds of times, maybe thousands of times, and no one freaking noticed until this one lady took her head out of her butt and actually figured out who sent her spam mail she didn’t request. One lady, one time.

I think we would all benefit from paying attention to our surroundings just a bit more, starting with the protection of our ZIP codes and personal information.