Online sales are soaring. State budget deficits are growing. And tax-free internet sales are once again in the spotlight. Congress is considering bills that would level the playing field by allowing states to require all online merchants doing business in that state to collect sales tax. Web retailers have largely had a free ride since a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that only merchants with a physical presence in a state are responsible for collecting sales tax.

The Supreme Court of California recently ruled that collecting ZIP codes from customers who paid by credit card may subject merchants to class-action lawsuits. Dozens of such actions have already been filed, including against retailers "yet to be named." Reported settlements paid by some companies have exceeded $25 million. The lesson is clear: All retailers should review their customer information collection practices in light of California law (and other states) to avoid becoming the target of class-action lawyers.

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