My husband and I threw a big surprise party for my in-laws last weekend and since they live so close to the outlets, we decided to stop by to see if we could find any good deals and it seems like virtually every store that we walked into asked us for our zip code at the register. My husband rattled it off the first time we were asked, but that was before I could stop him.

How many times have you been at a store and been asked for your zip code?  It seems like a harmless question and most people think that it's just a way for the store to monitor where people are coming from to shop at their store. But, it's not.

According to privacy experts, when you freely give your zip code to a store, you're giving them an easy way to collect very valuable marking data about you. Listen, I'm not suggesting that giving up your password will send you into a dark rabbit hole, but you need to know that once the store has your zip code, they can very easily use any other personal information that they might have about you from your credit card to get even more personal information- the juicy stuff that all stores want. I'm talking about your phone number, mailing address and demographic details.  Once a store has this information, they can send you catalogs and flyers, call your house, and even sell your personal data for profit.

Some states have banned stores from asking customers for their zip code, but in some states, it's totally legal. Moral of the story is this- if you don't want people to know your business and if you don't want your mailbox cluttered with junk mail, politely decline to give your zip code the next time you're asked for it. If the cashier gets snippy or says they don't know how to ring up your purchase without a zip code, either make one up or give a zip code that isn't connected to your bank or credit card.

[via New York Times/Forbes/CNBC]