Updated at 1:54 p.m.
Urban Outfitters Inc., is facing a class action in Washington federal court over allegations the clothing retailer collected customer zip codes in violation of District of Columbia consumer protection laws.
The complaint, filed June 21 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, accused Urban Outfitters Inc. of asking for customer zip codes in a way that implied the information was required to complete a credit card transaction. The plaintiffs claimed Urban Outfitters, which also owns Anthropologie-brand stores, used the zip codes to track down customer addresses for marketing purposes.
The lawsuit is the latest against a retailer over zip code collection practices. In March, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled retailers could be sued under Massachusetts consumer privacy law for collecting zip codes during credit card transactions, allowing a class action to proceed in Massachusetts federal court against Michaels Stores Inc.
Scott Perry of Perry Charnoff in Arlington, Va., the lead plaintiffs’ attorney in the D.C. case against Urban Outfitters, said rulings from other state courts in recent years were instructive on how courts were leaning, even though the previous cases involved state-specific consumer protection laws.
“It’s one thing for a store to put someone on a mailing list with their permission,” Perry said. “It’s quite another to ask for information that allows them to find this information out without being transparent about it.”
A representative of Urban Outfitters Inc., did not immediately return a request for comment.
According to the complaint, customers at Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie were asked for their zip codes when they paid with a credit card. The plaintiffs pointed to recent news reports detailing how retailers can find a customer’s address if they have a name—which is on a credit card—and zip code.
Under the D.C. Code, the plaintiffs claimed, it’s illegal for a merchant to ask for a customer’s address or telephone number as a condition for processing a credit card transaction. The plaintiffs argue the law applies to their situation because a zip code is part of an address.
“The purpose of the statute was to prevent name fraud and identity fraud. That’s a huge issue these days, the privacy of peoples’ personal information,” Perry said. “It’s a situation where, you know, it leads to potentially all kinds of dangerous things.”
The purported class would cover anyone who bought merchandise from Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie beginning in June 2010 and were asked for their zip codes during the payment process. The plaintiffs are seeking $1,500 per violation of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Act, $500 per violation of the local consumer identification information law, punitive damages, and a court order barring the Urban Outfitters Inc., stores from collecting zip codes during credit card transactions.
The case is before U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell.
A previous version of this article misstated the damages sought by plaintiffs.