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Shell wins suit over credit card numbers on receipts

Plaintiffs did not argue injury in the case that could have cost Shell $1 billion

The 7th Circuit has ruled in favor of Royal Dutch Shell Plc in a suit over what’s included on customers’ receipts.

In the case, plaintiffs claimed that Shell violated the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) when it printed the middle four digits of customers’ credit card numbers on receipts. The law, which was enacted in 2003 to help prevent identity theft, allows companies to include as many as the last five digits of a credit card number on receipts. Plaintiffs did not argue that their risk of identity theft was higher due to Shell’s practice.

Violators of FACTA could face up to $100 for each violation. For Shell, that would have amounted to more than $1 billion. Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, who authored the decision for the three-judge panel presiding over the case, wrote that the law didn’t say which credit card digits could appear on receipts, just that there be no more than five.

“We need not essay a definition of 'card number' as an original matter, because we can't see why anyone should care how the term is defined," Easterbrook wrote. “A precise definition does not matter as long as the receipt contains too few digits to allow identity theft." He added that “an award of $100 to everyone who has used a Shell card at a Shell station would exceed $1 billion, despite the absence of a penny's worth of injury.”


Cathleen Flahardy

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