Digit dispute

The Madison County Record Aug. 4, 2007, 12:34pm

Natalie Sutton didn't have her identity stolen, nor has she lost even a nickel. Admittedly.

But that didn't stop her from suing the popular online travel retailer Expedia, demanding punitive damages because her receipt had too many credit card digits on it. Led (of course) by her lawyers, John Patchett of Marion and a triumvirate of Tennessee law firms, Sutton filed her lawsuit in federal court in East St. Louis this week.

The 48-year-old Marion resident is now the lead plaintiff in a class action seeking damages on behalf of "hundreds" of similarly wronged online travel bargain hunters. Happy with their actual purchases, they're trying to exploit an ambiguous clause in a 2003 federal law for some fast cash.

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) aspires to regulate what businesses can and cannot put on receipts so as to prevent identity theft.

Mr. Patchett claims in the complaint the law allows five digits of a credit card number, max, and it cannot include its expiration date. If a business prints more-- six digits, for instance-- they are in violation of the law and have to pay him... er, his client... up to $1,000 in damages per over-digited receipt.

Setting aside the most glaring critiques here-- that having six digits of a 16 digit credit card will get you nowhere, or that Ms. Sutton hasn't suffered any damages at all, yet wants the court to grant her compensation anyway, come to mind-- we cannot get past the nature of the defendant's business.

Expedia is an online travel retailer.

The company sells hotel rooms, airline tickets, rental cars and the like over the Internet. That's it. It doesn't issue any receipts at all, that is, unless you decide to print them off yourself.

So we're left to presume that Patchett has brought a lawsuit suggesting his client was wronged by an e-receipt, one that presumably flashed on the screen for but a moment after she clicked "purchase," and before she shut her browser or surfed elsewhere.

And plaintiff's lawyers wonder why they are so loathed?

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