Why We Ask for a ZIP Code at the Pump

The store itself doesn’t need a customer’s ZIP code for customers fueling at the pump, but the pump does.

July 15, 2013

NEW YORK – It’s a common customer inquiry: Does a retailer really need a ZIP code to pump gas? While some customers say they routinely input a false ZIP code, writes Forbes, others say they find the practice treats them “like a criminal.” 

The reason, however, and one that Forbes set out to uncover, is security.

“Asking for the ZIP code at the pump is security related. Someone with a stolen card would be less likely to correctly enter the ZIP,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS spokesperson, told Forbes. “Thieves often test cards to see if they are still ‘live’ at places where they don’t have to engage in a face-to-face transaction, such as at the gas pump. This is done so that there is not a confrontation where they could have the card confiscated.” 

Lenard continued: “After a successful test, the thieves may then try it at retail locations. So, by requiring a ZIP, it may limit options for the thief. Unfortunately, it adds a level of inconvenience for the law-abiding customer.” 

He said the information is not stored for marketing but is sent to retailer’s credit card processor and then on to the card company, such as Visa and MasterCard. 

Sanette Chao, a spokeswoman for American Express, also noted that ZIPs are not stored for a retailer’s marketing purposes. “Generally our contracts restrict merchants from using or storing American Express card member information provided during a transaction other than to facilitate the transaction,” she said, adding, “It is the merchants’ discretion whether to process an American Express transaction if the card member refuses to provide his or her ZIP code.”

ExxonMobil and Phillips 66 also confirmed with Forbes that that they request ZIPs at the pump only to reduce fraud and said the number is not kept after the transaction.

So what about the customer who insists on not providing a ZIP code when filling up at the pump? Go inside the store to pay.

“It [ZIP code] is not needed inside the store because the card can be reviewed by the cashier to ensure it looks like a true credit card,” explained Shelly Faris, spokesperson for CST Brands. “And, our customers sign for the credit card transaction if it is over a specified amount as defined by the card company.”

For those customers who still don’t want to offer up a ZIP…there’s always the option of using cash.