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Why you need to sign your credit card

Does signing the back of your credit card still actually help prevent fraud?

By MSN Money Partner Aug 15, 2012 11:00AM

This post comes from Matt Brownell at partner site on MSN MoneyOn the back of every credit card are two security measures. One is the CVV code, a three-digit code used for "card not present" transactions like making an online purchase. Any reputable online retailer will ask for that code upon checkout to make sure that you actually have the card in your possession (and aren't a thief who's simply stolen the data from the front of the card).


Image: Credit card (© Tetra Images/Tetra Images/Corbis/Corbis)The other security measure sits right next to the CVV code, and it's comparatively low-tech: a signature field, with a warning that your card is "not valid unless signed." Much as online retailers are supposed to ask for the CVV code, so too are merchants supposed to check for your signature on the back of the card and compare it with your signed receipt to make sure they match.


But if you're hard-pressed to remember the last time a cashier examined your signature, you're not alone.


Signing your card "could possibly deter someone from using a card that's been lost," says Raul Vargas, the manager of fraud operations at Identity Theft 911. "But I'd say that's outdated --merchants no longer check it." While checking every card's signature might catch the occasional fraudulent transaction and thus protect the merchant from chargebacks by the bank, Vargas says it's still not worth the merchant's time.


That's especially true considering that a thief could easily forge your signature on the receipt. After all, it's not as if the average cashier has training in handwriting analysis. (Post continues below video.)

"I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the security industry who sees it as a substantive and significant security measure in isolation," says Alistair Newton, an analyst at research firm Gartner specializing in the banking industry. "It's pretty unsophisticated."


That's not to say it's entirely useless, though. Newton points out that if the person who stole your card spends five minutes practicing your signature before using your card, that gives you another five minutes to discover the theft and call to cancel your card.


And it's not entirely out of the question that a merchant will ask to see the back of the card.


Vargas says he was recently asked for his signature when making an expensive purchase at a jewelry store, as such high-value merchants are frequently targeted by credit card thieves who want to quickly purchase an expensive item, then pawn it for cash before the theft is discovered. So it's worth taking 10 seconds to sign the back of the card for those rare occasions when a fraud-wary merchant asks to see it.


Of course, most credit cards offer zero liability on fraudulent purchases, so you might not be too worried about credit card fraud. But if you haven't signed the card, those protections might not come into play. Your signature, says Vargas, serves to ratify the cardholder agreement between you and the issuing bank. (Indeed, he says the signature field was implemented in part to make sure cardholders couldn't try to escape charges by claiming that they never agreed to the terms of the contract.) As such, the bank could say that an unsigned card isn't covered by the fraud protections in the contract.

"If it's not signed, then technically the contract between the bank and consumer has not been ratified," he says. "If (a thief) makes tons of charges and the merchant tells the bank that it wasn't signed, they can refuse fraud protection."


So while signing the back of your card isn't an ironclad protection against fraud, there are definitely scenarios in which doing so can save you a lot of trouble. If you haven't signed your cards yet, find a pen now.


More from and MSN Money:

Aug 22, 2012 11:15PM
for you folk who write ask or check ID....guess what..the merchant doesn't have to accept your plastic. Why? It might violate their terms of agreement with the credit card company. In certain cases, they can not ask for a picture ID (again violation of TOS). Also, in the case of Identity theft, the handwriting can be analyzed. Guess you aren't as bright as you think you are...sign the backs of the credit cards.
Aug 22, 2012 11:10PM
However leaving your card unsigned completely with nothing written on it is the worst thing you can as far as I'm concerned. Because if you do loose your card, anyone can pick it up and sign it and the signature would typically match - even if they are not the person on the card. Always put something in the box!!!
Aug 22, 2012 11:08PM
I don't normally reply to these, but I work in retail as a cashier. I ALWAYS check the signature. If the card says 'Ask for ID' or similar, I ask for ID. I have even asked for an ID if the signatures didn't look similar. Many times people sign the card all nice nice, then when they get to the register, they just scribble. If you are going to take the time to sign your card, please sign it the same way you would if you are signing at the register. And if you don't, don't get upset, if you are asked to show an ID. It is for your own protection. I have to say this is one of my pet peaves because not many of my fellow workers do this and the customers get mad at me for doing my job. I even had one customer tell me that checking his ID was not my job. Yes it is. I have never signed my cards for the same reasons stated below but it makes sense for the agreement. I like what one person wrote below about signing lightly then Check ID on top. So you can see that the card was signed without really seeing the signature.
Aug 22, 2012 11:02PM
Giving a copy of your signature only aids in identity theft. So does allowing the cashier to write down detail from your ID. Present your card, signature naked. If they balk, walk; there are millions of stores. If they don't trust you, why should you trust them? 

The banking system is designed and overseen by the; ergo, it is critically flawed. BTW they and the states are starting to "watch" every cc purchase... The believes everyone cheats on their taxes. Probably because the people running it do.
Aug 22, 2012 10:58PM
Rather than putting my "signature" on the back of the card, I put the message, "Check I D."   Some cashiers do ... others don't. 
Aug 22, 2012 10:39PM
most of the posts here are smart and correct. signing the CC is outdated. you should NEVER sign your CC. it shouldn't be blank. put - SEE I.D.
Aug 22, 2012 10:31PM
now remember folks no id necessary to vote. odd ain't it.
Aug 22, 2012 10:30PM
not that i've ever had anyone check i signed my card ASK FOR PHOTO ID.  
Aug 22, 2012 9:44PM
Since I started using "ask for ID" on the back, I have had more cashiers ask for it. Before they didn't even compare the signatures. I have one card with my picture on it and that works even better.
Aug 22, 2012 9:44PM
I have signed my card "See Photo ID" in the signature block for several years.  It is a kind of check on the merchant.  Yes, it is inconvenient to pull  out my photo ID for the 15% who request it.  I make it a point to visit those places that do it.  I also think about the fact that I have no less than six photo ID's.  Three of them cost me nothing.  Gee, maybe we could apply this to voting.
Aug 22, 2012 9:32PM
I usually sign my card lightly in light blue fine ink pen to confirm the agreement, then black indelible marker over signature PLEASE SEE I D still able to make out that my name was signed but so that the signature is unnoticed
Aug 22, 2012 9:12PM

Signing your card or not? Well I know the card is valid when I call and activate the dam piece of plastic from my residence. They have no Idea if I have signed it or not so  take your chance and write check ID

and if they don't accept the card then that might be a good deterrent thing for the criminal because it is invalid to them for sure.

Aug 22, 2012 8:59PM
Write "photo ID only" in the space on back of your credit card.
Aug 22, 2012 8:58PM
most of you idiots that write "see id" or something like that get mad when a cashier does ask to see id.  Some of you even have the nerve to throw a fit when asked as if you are being inconvenienced by not signing you card and making it valid.  So...have your damn id on you if you're gonna do that!
Aug 22, 2012 8:48PM

In the past 4 months, only one establishment has asked to verify my ID. The back of my card isn't signed. Store clerks look at the back of my card, scan it, then promptly hand it right back, never asking for ID.

Signing your card won't deter would-be theives.

Aug 22, 2012 8:45PM
I don't sign any of my credit cards and/or my debit card.  Instead, I write in permanent marker "See picture ID".  If by chance the merchant does ask for ID, the person using the card must provide an ID that has a name that matches the name on the card; and in addition, the photo on the ID must also match the person using the card.  If the name and photo don't match...BINGO, the card is stolen.  I've been practicing this method of signature for over 20 years now.
Aug 22, 2012 8:13PM
I do not write my signature on the back of my credit card, I always write ID REQUIRED. I have never seen a sales clerk require proof of a signature, but most of the times they require your ID when the card says ID ONLY. To not require an ID neglects your fiduciary responsibility and should hold you responsible  for the consequences. I realize that to pass the buck  to someone else is a great American tradition, but maybe it is time to reverse the tradition and force people to accept responsibility - there is a unique idea.
Aug 22, 2012 8:05PM
What would stop a majority of in-store fraud is if the clerks would ask to see picture identification when someone is paying by credit card.  Seldom am I EVER ASKED FOR ID.  Of course there would be some snobby customers who would feel put-off by this rude request.
Aug 22, 2012 8:03PM

I use a Sharpie to write 'PHOTO ID REQ'D' in the signature space. Perhaps 1-in-25 cashiers look at the back and ask for my ID.


But then, what good is anything written on the card if it's and used at a gas pump?

Aug 22, 2012 8:02PM
"Why To Sign Your Credit Card?" Where'd this yo-yo learn English  and what happened to the proofreader?
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