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Email Receipt is Not Good Enough, Court Rules

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By Robin Enos on May 31, 2011 9:46 AM

E-commerce businesses might have concerns about their ordinary online sales transactions, in light of a new court ruling limiting the effect of email receipts.

In Simonoff v. Expedia, Inc., the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that, where a federal law requires that merchants limit the disclosure of credit card information on printed receipts, an email receipt is not a "printed receipt."

But the court's ruling pertains only to cases brought under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA).

This is a fairly narrow federal law. FACTA prohibits anyone that accepts credit cards from "print(ing) more than the last 5 digits of the card number or the expiration date upon any receipt provided to the cardholder at the point of the sale or transaction."

Also, the court in Simonoff granted a dismissal to the defendant, Expedia. Simonoff accused Expedia of disclosing Simonoff's credit card expiration date in an emailed acknowledgment, thus exposing Simonoff to possible identify theft. Since Expedia only sent Simonoff an email, the court ruled, there was no "printing," and thus no application of this particular federal law.

The Simonoff case did not involve a point of sale transaction, or an actual printed receipt. In fact, the court made the point that Congress apparently intended to affect only bricks-and-mortar retailers, not online merchants.

The court spelled it out: "the implementation provision (of FACTA) applies only to machines that generate physical receipts."

In the face of this new court ruling, Congress might decide to change the language of the law. But as of today, the only effect this ruling has would be to limit the printing of full credit card numbers on actual, physical receipts.

Check with your own attorney for local rules. But online merchants' email receipts would appear to be unaffected by this new court ruling, unless merchants print actual, physical receipts for customers.

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