If you’ve been involved in any kind of social justice advocacy, you may have noticed that most petitions require you to provide your address or your zip code. That demand coupled with other information you have to provide–even if you agree with the cause of the petition– could make you a little weary of signing your name. You may wonder why so much information is necessary.
Petitions often ask for your address so they can verify the legitimacy of the signatures they’ve gathered. Further, sometimes when the petition is based on an issue affecting a particular area, addresses and zip codes can demonstrate strong local support for change.
If you would like to explore petitions and how they work so that you can make sure your signature is going towards a worthy cause, we’ve got you covered. In the next several sections, we will lay out why petitions need your zip code, how effective they can be, and how to tell if a petition comes from a reputable advocacy group. You’ll be ready to discern the right petitions for you to sign in no time!
Why Do Petitions Need Your Zip Code?
You’ve probably noticed that when you sign a petition–be it online or in person–the individual or group usually asks for your name, email, and zip code or full address. This is in large part because it is easy for online trolls and others with less than benevolent intentions to flood a petition with fake signatures–usually in an attempt to delegitimize it.
The other reason zip codes can be extremely important is because like full addresses, zip codes indicate that you have strong support from the local community. Having local support can bolster your chances of affecting real change dramatically, so if you’re a petitioner it greatly behooves you to find a way to prove that support.
Can Signing a Petition Lead to Identity Theft?
When a petition starts to ask for information like your zip code or your full address, you may wonder if this increases your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft. The truth is a little complicated, however the risk of identity theft from signing a petition remains low if you take steps to confirm its legitimacy.
Experts have weighed in on this issue and come to the conclusion that a group simply knowing your name and address, doesn’t significantly increase the chances they’ll commit identity theft. That said, it is important to bear in mind that giving out your signature slightly increases your risk, due to the way we use signatures in so many financial transactions.
Though identity theft is possible, it is still highly unlikely. If you’re scammed by a fake petition it is much more likely that the scammer will simply sell your information so that companies can spam you. Again, this can be avoided by taking a few steps to make sure you know who you’re dealing with. We’ll lay some of those steps out exactly in the next section.
How to Tell if a Petition is Legitimate
To make sure that the petition you’re signing is actually going towards a cause you care about and not just paying lip service to it in order to get your information, you should always make sure it is legitimate. Below is a quick list of tips that will help you to determine whether the petition you’re thinking of signing is reputable today.
- Find out who is behind the petition: This is easier to do online, however before you sign any petition make sure that you know which advocacy group you are dealing with. There are some highly reputable groups out there, however there are some quasi scammers floating around as well that just want to sell your email or phone number. A quick Google search can save you a lot of trouble.
- Make sure the petitioner isn’t asking for too much information: If you encounter someone who isn’t using a reputable site for a petition such as Change.org, and they start asking for info like your social security number, that should be an instant red flag that they are just trying to con you. A petitioner shouldn’t ask for any information more invasive than your zip code or address.
- Find out where the petition is going: To make sure that you’re signing a petition that is effective, you should make sure that it is going to the right place. If someone is petitioning for a hyper local issue, they probably don’t need to be sending it to the president.
- Pay close attention to the wording: This is more so that you know you’re signing a petition that actually represents your views. Some groups with questionable motives, can try to word things in a way that anyone would want to sign. To make sure you’re actually supporting the cause you want, you should read the fine print.
Do Petitions Really Work?
Now that we’ve seen how to make sure the petition you’re signing isn’t a scam and does support the cause you agree with, we should turn our attention to the question of whether or not petitions are actually effective in the first place. Below we have created a list of reasons why petitions are still worth signing today, even if leadership pretends they don’t exist.
- Petitions raise awareness: When a massive petition is levied, it can become big news and help raise awareness of issues. Also, sometimes when a person knows that there are a lot of other people out there who agree with them, that alone is enough to influence them to speak up themselves.
- Petitions put those in power on notice: Politicians need the support of the people in order to keep their power. If they see that an issue has become so universally promoted by the public, they will feel more pressure to address it. Putting pressure on politicians and others in power is one of the main consequences of a successful petition.
- Petitions show solidarity: Marginalized groups and their allies can show support by voicing their concerns in the form of a petition. Though petitions are only one of the ways we should show solidarity, they can make a great start. Plus, having a growing number of signatures is a powerful way to show just how many people support your movement.
Like any other tool in the fight for justice, petitions alone are not enough to fix all the inequities currently facing the US and the broader world, however they are useful in many ways. They’re really good for reminding us to never underestimate the power of people’s voices when they come together to make a statement.
So, Why Do Petitions Really Need Your Address?
Given the rise of so many online scams, it’s understandable that many people may have some trepidation when a petitioner is asking them to give their address as well as their signature. Still, for a petition to be most effective, it needs to have some way of confirming that the signatures are real and in some cases that they are local.
Remember, you should always double check that the petition you sign is being offered by a reputable petitioner. Also make sure you read the fine print to confirm that the petition supports the same cause you do. As long as everything checks out, you can sign the petition and affect positive change by showing solidarity on the important issues!
This article is not a substitute for professional legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice.