What Can Thieves Find Using Your Zip Code?

Your social media profile and your zip code is a treasure trove for thieves.

ByABC News
February 8, 2011, 10:00 AM

Feb. 23, 2011— -- I knew very little about her personal life until an online search helped me discover much more about her in less than an hour.

In the late 90s, Jenna graduated from High School in Massachusetts and eight years later she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in legal studies from a leading Catholic University, which came with at least two honors. The 29-year-old lives in the Harlem section of Manhattan.

For eight years, she worked at a bankruptcy law office with branches in seven locations. I assume she's a thrill seeker because nearly four years ago Jenna, whose e-mail address I found while digging around, also took a skydiving class. The names of her siblings and her parents were all at my fingertips.

Of all the things I learned about Jenna I only knew two before I started this Internet search -- her name and ZIP code.

"The information is pretty basic but it's crazy that it came up for free," wrote Jenna. Other than a misplaced letter attached to a sibling's name, all of the information, including her mother's name, was accurate.

It's this information that consumers against the disclosure of ZIP codes attached to full names are attempting to keep merchants from easily piecing together. Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court ruled that requesting postal codes during most credit card transactions violated the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act, a 1971 California law that prohibits businesses from requesting that cardholders provide "personal identification information."

Disclosing ZIP codes allows "people [to] track their purchases. It creates a profile and that information can be shared with other companies and that's dangerous to have that information in one area," says lawyer Gene J. Stonebarger, whose lawsuit triggered the ruling.

The ruling in the Jessica Pineda vs. Williams-Sonoma case has paved the way for numerous lawsuits against major retailers like Wal-Mart, Tiffany & Co., Crate & Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target Corp., and Macy's Inc. as many consumers question what information retails do have access to.