-Enter your zip code please -Across the street from you
February 5, 2008 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Why was I asked for my zip code when I payed at the pump? ID verification?

Any idea why I was asked by the credit card machine at the pump for my zip code the last time I tried to pay with a credit card at the pump? This was at a BP. I payed with a visa. Rather not say the issuing bank, but it's a big one. Are gas stations starting to do this to verify identity since most gas purchases are over $25, which is the limit for purchases without a signature in most other cases?

That is my first guess, because when asked for my zip, I was pretty annoyed, because I thought it was for the station to collect demographic data. So I fed it a false one. Then it told me to see attendant, so either that data went to my bank for verification, and was turned down, the zip I gave it doesn't exists, so the station made me come inside, or the station doesn't want to let people who live far away (the zip I gave it would be from far away) pay at the pump, in case it's a scam. And then I realized that I had just given them my credit card number, so I was probably being ridiculous anyway. But if the station can easily see that information (i.e. if it's for demographics), well, I don't want them to. If it's just going to my bank to verify the card I'm using isn't stolen, I'm all for it.

I called my issuing bank and checked my latest purchases to make sure it wasn't because there was any "suspicious activity" on my account or anything. There wasn't.

Anyhow, the only 3 reasons I can think of are: 1) suspicious activity on my account, so extra verification required - ruled out, 2) Gas stations starting to do this as ID verification, and/or credit card companies asking that they do this, in which case I'm fine with it. They already have my credit card information. Not telling them anything they don't know. 3) Gas station collecting demographic information, which I'd prefer they not do.

So anyone know why? Have you had the same happen for the first time recently?
posted by gauchodaspampas to Work & Money (29 answers total)
I believe it's #2 - American Express has been doing this a while now and I think other issuers are requiring the billing zipcode as protection against stolen cards/numbers.
posted by nightwood at 10:55 AM on February 5, 2008

I've seen this at a number of gas stations for a few years. See here
posted by milkrate at 10:55 AM on February 5, 2008

Most gas stations I use do this to stop stolen credit card use. It just double checks you know the billing zip of your credit card.
posted by sharkfu at 10:55 AM on February 5, 2008

It's a way of validating you are the owner of the card, the theory being that someone whos tole your wallet wouldn't know the billing zip.

Yes it's poor security.
posted by iamabot at 10:56 AM on February 5, 2008

I'm in California, and every time I pay for gas with a credit card, I'm asked for my zip code. When I pay by debit card, I'm asked for my PIN. I'm pretty sure there's even a sticker on the gas pump that states why this is required - some security thing, and everyone has to do it.
posted by katillathehun at 10:56 AM on February 5, 2008

This has been my standard experience over the past 3+ years while paying at the pump with my credit card. I assume it is a standard ID verification to authorize the credit card. I live in the Bay Area.
posted by gnutron at 10:57 AM on February 5, 2008

Gas station charges are pretty much the most common type of debit/credit card fraud due to the complete lack of verification. Requesting and verifying the zip code of the card being used is a way of trying to avoid that. If there are any fraudulent charges, the gas station will most likey be the ones taking the loss.
posted by logic vs love at 10:57 AM on February 5, 2008

This seemed to start out of nowhere, but now I get asked for my zip code almost every time I pay at the pump. Sometimes I'm even asked for my house number. I'm positive that it's for verification and fraud prevention purposes. The increased cost of gas has, I'm sure, led to a rise in people stealing it with stolen credit cards, and since credit card companies are on the hook after a fraudulent transaction, they've started asking for this info to close the security gap. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, I've noticed that the automated interrogation seems to happen more often at gas stations in poorer/more urban areas, and not so much in wealthier suburbs.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:00 AM on February 5, 2008

When someone steals your credit card, the first place they go is a gas station. I have a friend whose credit card was stolen, and within the hour there were charges totalling $5000 from various gas stations.

We had some fun trying to picture the thief calling all of his friends and having them meet him at various pumps around town.
posted by koeselitz at 11:01 AM on February 5, 2008

Best answer: FWIW, the pumps in my area have requested billing zip code for pay at the pump credit card purchases for the past several years. I noticed stations located in urban areas or right off the freeway started using them first but I routinely encounter them in very posh suburban neighborhoods as well, now. The system they are using is called an Address Verification Service, per this story: "Many retailers ask for customer ZIP codes for use in marketing research, but the credit card industry does not permit retailers to record any personal data provided through the credit card processing system."
posted by jamaro at 11:03 AM on February 5, 2008

The gas station I most frequently go to just started doing this a couple of months ago, and they put a sticker on the pump, something like "To help protect against credit card fraud, you will be asked for your zip code".
posted by jozxyqk at 11:03 AM on February 5, 2008

Lots of gas stations do this. From what I understand, that gets verified (along with the number) by the credit card company before you're given approval to pump away. It helps make your card safer, in much the same way that an ATM pin does.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:05 AM on February 5, 2008

As others have noted, it is a security measure for credit cards--but I'd add that they do this in the NYC subway as well. I'm sure this is pretty common at any point of sale without direct human supervision.

Anyone have personal experience with the iPod vending machines in large airports, for instance? Do those require the zip, too?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:12 AM on February 5, 2008

Obviously this question has been answered, but yeah, the zipcode is a really common way of credit card verification. When you order online from many companies, they only check the zip of your address with the credit card (even though you write out your whole billing address).

Metrocard machines in NYC do this too.
posted by gaspode at 11:29 AM on February 5, 2008

My prepaid cellphone auto-add service also does this, just as another data point.
posted by herbaliser at 11:33 AM on February 5, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all. Interesting that I just encountered this for the first time. I guess Minnesota is behind the times. And thanks, jamaro, for verifying that the stations can't record my information. Good to know they're adding a little bit more of a deterrent now. I was concerned at first just in case it was being recorded by the station. And I didn't notice any new signs indicating why I was being asked for my zip. Makes sense though.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:40 AM on February 5, 2008

Canadian postal codes are 6 alphanumeric characters so when I drive in the states I can't use pay-at-pump. Poor hoser.
posted by CynicalKnight at 11:49 AM on February 5, 2008

Zip code is the most user-friendly version of Address Verification Service there is. Everything else would require punching in longer parts of your address and it tends to be fairly strict about it, which is why a lot of e-commerce sites just send zip to AVS (if anything). Our local grocery stores are starting to ask for zip code at the self-check lanes.
posted by yerfatma at 1:01 PM on February 5, 2008

Metrocard machines in NYC do this too.

What's interesting is that buying a Metro-North ticket and Metrocard in New Haven doesn't require this, but buying one in NYC does - it's location based, usually determined by previous fraud charges. One of the gas stations I shop at has never required this, but started doing it after finding a lot of fraudulent charges going through (they were one of the last in this particular area to start using verification).

Like others have said, often a credit card thief will hit a gas station first to determine if the card is actually good, before making other purchases.

In NYC, more of the population will come across a Metrocard machine before a gas station, so it was a popular place to check a card you'd swiped to see if it had been reported yet.
posted by pupdog at 1:10 PM on February 5, 2008

And for Canadians with Canadian credit cards and Canadian postal codes, this also means we can no longer use our credit cards at the pump in the states. I understand why this is done, but it's a pain. If I owned a gas station in a border state, I'd try and find out if there's any way to accept 6 digit alpha numeric postal codes as well. (That being said - I haven't yet seen a canadian gas station requiring a postal code to use a credit card at the pump yet tho, but I'm sure it'll come eventually.)
posted by cgg at 1:20 PM on February 5, 2008

It's important - it makes sure that the guy who stole your wallet (and is trying to buy gas with your stolen credit card) can read your zip code off your driver's license. We can't have illiterate thieves and pickpockets out there prospering, can we?
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:24 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

You've got your answer, but if you're interested in How Things Work:

I wrote code to do credit card validation against the Authorize.net company's service many years ago and they have their specification document on their website available to anyone.

If you open up the "Advanced Integration Method" implementation guide[PDF] and go down to page 42 you can see all the possible results for address validation. Your gas station is submitting only the zip code (rather than a more complete address) and requiring a match. Page 11-13 list all the things a merchant could submit for validation.

(Some apps, including the one I wrote, would submit the information and merely store the answer for posterity/troubleshooting, but it was configurable and you could require a very rigorous match or a simple one.)

Here's the possible result codes that Authorize might return. Other clearinghouses might have different options, but you can see just how flexible it can be. You might also note that it's possible for an issuing bank to choose not to support these checks, in which case you'd be unable to use your card at that pump. (My debit card from Propay seems to be one of these - I have never been able to use it at a pump)

Possible responses:

Address (Street) matches, ZIP does not
Address information not provided for AVS check
AVS error
Non-U.S. Card Issuing Bank
No Match on Address (Street) or ZIP
AVS not applicable for this transaction
Retry – System unavailable or timed out
Service not supported by issuer
Address information is unavailable
9 digit ZIP matches, Address (Street) does not
Address (Street) and 9 digit ZIP match
Address (Street) and 5 digit ZIP match
5 digit ZIP matches, Address (Street) does not

As I said, it's up to the merchant to decide which of these to require, if any. It's possible some other clearinghouses might require a certain level of rigor depending on the type of transaction if they're prone to fraud (as self-serve gas pumps are).
posted by phearlez at 1:26 PM on February 5, 2008

Skimming through these responses... did any who actually works for a credit card company or who otherwise actually knows what they are talking about answer the question? I believe this is done merely to gather marketing data, but I don't work in the credit card industry. Incidentally, I live in Massachusetts and I've never been to a gas station that asked for my zip code (I think it may be illegal here).
posted by thomas144 at 1:29 PM on February 5, 2008

What phearlez said; I've worked with the authorize.net services as well.

Zip codes are pretty short and straightforward to check against. You probably couldn't get away with asking people to type in their street address, for example. Yes, it's just a security speedbump, but at least it's something.

Most gas stations I go to (north near suburban Twin Cities, Minnesota) started asking within the last year, year-and-a-half. The last time I tried to get gas in a more sketchy neighborhood, the station had disabled pay-at-the-pump entirely, and posted a big bossy note to come inside and pay in advance.

Like others have said, often a credit card thief will hit a gas station first to determine if the card is actually good, before making other purchases.

Indeed--and fast food is another way stolen cards get "pre-validated" these days.
posted by gimonca at 1:57 PM on February 5, 2008

This is done to help verify that the card is not stolen. It's not just gas stations; for example, I've seen this done at automated movie rental kiosks, NYC's MetroCard kiosks, and even at some retailers during face-to-face transactions.

Here's a Boston Globe article discussing this, with specific references to ZIP code verification at gas stations:

It's an effort to fight credit card fraud at gas stations and retail stores. A thief usually won't know the ZIP code associated with the card he's using. So requiring the ZIP code is a simple way to reduce fraudulent purchases. Gasoline retailers say they ask for ZIP codes in areas where credit fraud is a problem. ...

Using the ZIP code to check fraud is possible because of Address Verification Service. A MasterCard spokeswoman said her company introduced the system in 1989 as an additional safeguard.

The system compares the ZIP code entered by the card user to the ZIP code of the actual cardholder.

The article also discusses the use of ZIP code authorization in retail stores.

So, yes, there is a legitimate security/anti-fraud reason for you to provide your ZIP code as part of a credit card transaction.
posted by punishinglemur at 2:02 PM on February 5, 2008

If you absolutely must have the most authoritative answer possible, Superamerica has a contact form online. Ask 'em why all their Roseville, MN locations ask for a zip code at the pump now.
posted by gimonca at 2:03 PM on February 5, 2008

amex user here and I have to enter zip at both gas stations and the local Wal-Mart.
posted by busboy789 at 3:15 PM on February 5, 2008

It's not the card issuers that are requiring it; it's just that there is a heck of an incentive to the gas station. Not only do they have to eat the fraud, making it in their best interest to do it, they probably pay lower transaction fees due to the additional verification.
posted by kindall at 4:42 PM on February 5, 2008

cgg writes "(That being said - I haven't yet seen a canadian gas station requiring a postal code to use a credit card at the pump yet tho, but I'm sure it'll come eventually.)"

Probably sooner rather then later now that BC requires all self serve transactions be pre-paid.
posted by Mitheral at 7:39 PM on February 5, 2008

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