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A law to protect against identity theft has spawned more than 300 class-action lawsuits across the country. The lawsuits claim merchants failed to remove both the expiration date and sufficient digits of the credit card number on receipts they give back to customers. Lawyers are trying to get the lawsuits certified as class actions, potentially opening restaurants and stores to thousands or even millions of dollars in liability.

The claims are filed under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, or FACTA. Congress enacted the law in 2003 to address identity theft and credit card fraud.

Most people, if they've dealt with FACTA at all, tapped a provision that gives consumers the right to a free credit report each year.

But another section requires that businesses truncate credit card information on receipts. That's why retailers no longer print out receipts containing all 16 digits of your credit card number. They must limit the digits to five and remove the credit card expiration date.

Lawyers say thousands of retailers across the country -- many using outdated credit card processing machines -- probably are in violation.

Businesses that fail to comply with FACTA's credit card rule can be liable for statutory damages of $100 to $1,000 per consumer if the noncompliance is willful.

Since it would be very difficult to prove actual damages -- that someone had their identity stolen or was the victim of credit card fraud because of receipt errors -- the FACTA lawsuits focus on the argument that the violation was intentional.

Defense attorneys describe the lawsuits as the latest consumer class-action fad.

"We have lawsuits growing out of a situation where, as far as we know, no one's been actually injured," said Thomas Zych, a partner at a Cleveland law firm that is representing the Children's Place clothing store chain in a FACTA case.


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