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How much information is released when paying with a debit card?

Is it possible for a vendor to grab your name and address from your debit card and send you things in the mail?

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  • a debit card that you can use at the ATM? or a check chard that has the little visa (or other payment network) symbol in the corner? These are different cards with different sets of data...
    – user30204
    Jun 27, 2014 at 14:56
  • I had debit only cards in mind. The reason being I recently shopped at a grocery store and donated by bag credit. Shortly after I received something in the mail from a seemingly legitimate wildlife conservation organization (.org domain) saying thank you for your donation. I immediately panicked, checked all my bank statements, and came up empty. My next thought was somehow this grocery store took my name and address from my debit card and gave it to the organization as part of the donation information.
    – wes
    Jun 27, 2014 at 16:35
  • I've updated the answer to show other possible sources of information leakage... the article about target and the NYT article that I linked go much further into it than I can possibly fit in a simple text box.
    – user30204
    Jun 27, 2014 at 19:22

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I'm working from the assumption that this is a check card (it may go by various names in different places) that are part of the Visa or other payment processor network and not specifically an ATM card. There is a difference and I rarely see the ATM cards now.

The check card, like credit cards has in its track 1 your name along with some other information about the account (expiration date, account number and such).

With just this information, there is not enough information to pin you down to an individual and your address. However, more than companies ask for your zip code when paying by credit card (note, this is not the case when paying using a pin as it already provides the two factor identification and goes through the payment system a different way).

Asking for a zip code plays two roles - first, it can reduce their rates with the payment processing company as it adds another little bit of information about you to help ensure this isn't a fraudulent purchase (you often see this at a gas station where there is no human check on the use of the card). Secondly, zip + name is often enough information to identify an individual with address lookups.

Going back to the tracks... a debit only card has only track 2. This contains only the information about the account - the person's name isn't there.

When using a card with track 1 and track 2 (the visa check card), the company does have the name of the person. However, this alone isn't enough to identify a person and the bank and payment processor under normal situations will not release the billing address of the account (gathering marketing information would not be sufficient to need the information).


Expanding on this, being able to tie a customer to an individual is a very important thing for retail companies - especially for trying to track them across multiple visits and possibly multiple stores too. Companies are often very interested in this data and willing to spend a fair bit to acquire it (coupons, discounts and the like). Famously, the target data mining story of 2012 shows how much data can be leaked about an individual's personal situation. (chase the links on that story - there are a couple other good reads related to it, particularly the NYT article how companies learn your secrets)

There are two forms this takes - rewards cards, and company branded credit cards.

The rewards cards are rather simple. You use it at a check out and you get points or something. If this has your phone number, email address, or physical address tied to it (some do) it is a rather trivial matter to attach a given purchase to a given person.

With company sponsored credit cards (the type that one typically finds with larger companies - the Macy's card, Sear's card and the like) it is possible for the company to go back either to the application that passed through them to get the card or going to the credit card company directly to get the billing information if necessary.

This also extends to company sponsored rebates, in store credit...

Thus, if you use anything else that is identifying to you as part of a purchase, it is quite possible to trace the information back to an individual (even if one pays with cash otherwise).

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