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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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ID-Theft Case Proceeds Against Shell Oil

CHICAGO (CN) - Shell Oil may have to face a class action lawsuit for its failure to mask the last five digits of clients' credit card numbers on printed receipts, a federal judge ruled.

To protect customers from identity theft based on stolen credit card information, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) prohibits merchants from printing the card's expiration date or any more than the last five digits of its number on a receipt.

Shell's credit card layout differs from that of other cards such as Visa or Mastercard, which have a single series of numbers embossed on the front. Shell cards have two different numbers embossed on the card, the first of which is the nine-digit so-called "account number," followed by the six-digit "card number."

Shell masks a series of numbers in the middle of the embossed digits, leaving out the last five digits of the "account number." Visa and other cards, however, on the other hand mask those last five digits.

Natalie Van Straaten seeks to represent a class of consumers who used Shell's credit and debit cards at Shell gas stations. Her complaint alleged that Shell Oil Products, Equilon and Shell Oil masked the wrong digits on receipts printed after using their cards, in violation of FACTA. Shell responded with a motion for summary judgment.

Shell contended that its "account number" is the same as FACTA's "card number," but the court was unconvinced.

"A consumer purchasing a product on-line, when asked to input her card number, types in all of the numbers on the front of the card," U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning wrote. "If she only typed in a portion of the number, such as the digits corresponding to Shell's so-called 'account number', the transaction would be rejected."

"Because FACTA only applies to electronically printed receipts, the phrase 'the last 5 digits of the card number' necessarily must refer to the last five digits that can be read electronically," the 20-page decision states.

"To hold otherwise would require the court to ignore Congress' expressed intent to regulate receipts produced electronically since swiped payment cards read the magnetic stripe, not the numbers on the face of a card," Manning added.

Although Shell noted that the terms "account number" and "card number" are used interchangeably in the payment-card industry, the court found this argument inapplicable in this case, where the two do not refer to the same series of numbers.

"Since Shell chose not to follow the otherwise uniform industry standard when designing its payment cards and masking protocol, its current predicament is of its own making," Manning wrote.

Although Shell's masking protocol has not caused Van Straaten any harm, and she continues to use her Shell payment card, she seeks the statutory damages of $100 to $1,000 per occurrence.

The judgment noted that given the large number of Shell payment cards issued, Shell could face a very large damages claim if the class is certified.

It remains for a jury to determine if Shell's conduct was willful and reckless.

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