California: Requesting Zip Code information from Amusement Park guests gets more complicated

Picture this familiar scene at an amusement park near you.

By  Greg van Gompel

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Your wonderful employee, following all the steps in which she/he has been  trained, while using the credit card to process payment for admission, asks your guest for his/her zip code.  At that very moment, you and your employee may have just violated California law…

On February 10, 2011, the California Supreme Court, in the case of Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma Stores, (— Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2011 WL 446921 (Cal.), 11 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 1889, 2011 Daily Journal D.A.R. 2278) held that asking a credit card user for their Zip Code while processing a credit card transaction violates the state’s Song-Beverly Credit Card Act of 1971. (Ca. Civ. Code, § 1747 et seq.)  One of the Act’s provisions, Ca. Civil section 1747.08, prohibits businesses from requesting that cardholders provide “personal identification information” during credit card transactions, and then recording that information. 

The court concluded that a ZIP code constitutes “personal identification information” as that phrase is used in that section, so requesting and recording a cardholder’s ZIP code, without more, violates the Act.  Section 1747.08 does contain some exceptions that an amusement park  may use in its defense, including when a credit card is being used as a deposit or for cash advances, when the entity accepting the card is contractually required to provide the information to complete the transaction or is obligated to record the information under federal law or regulation, or when the information is required for a purpose incidental to but related to the transaction, such as for shipping, delivery, servicing, or installation.

Since a large number of amusement parks and entertainment attractions use Zip Codes for a wide variety of marketing and operational purposes, this decision has a wide-ranging effect on businesses in our industry. Even if your amusement park  is not located in California, I think this decision should be a catalyst for thinking of other creative ways to discover guest demographics such as collecting email addresses from guests or combing information provided by “Friends” to your attraction’s Facebook page.  Since the purpose of the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act is designed to “promote consumer protection, ” I can foresee other states limiting the recording of personal identification information in the future.