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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 "But I'd say that's outdated --merchants no longer check it."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 15, 2012 12:13PM
The safest way to protect your credit card is to write "SEE I.D. in the
area marked signature. You will never have to worry about it again.
(The post office is the only one that will not accept your card without
a valid signature.)

Aug 15, 2012 2:36PM
A signature on the back of the card does not prevent others from using the card even if the cashier checks the signature.  Today you almost always sig on an electronic device places at an odd angle.  The signature signed there is guaranteed to never match the card because of the odd angle you have to sign.  My signature most time looks like goblygook and never approached the signature on a piece of paper.  So why sign at all?
Aug 22, 2012 6:49PM
Is it just me or does anyone else get annoyed by the people peddling dating sites? If you do please hit the report button under harassment. Maybe then these people will find a real job.
Aug 22, 2012 7:51PM
Stupid article. I f you sign it the crook has your signature  which they will copy well enough to fool any cursory inspection.  Then they can use your signature else where.  ---NEVER sign the stupid card.
Aug 15, 2012 6:48PM
Hell, i could sign "Barack Obama" on the back of my card the same way doctor's write a prescriptions(in which no one can read), and they would not even notice or really care, just as long as they see something written in the back of it.  :) Yes, it's a joke.
Aug 15, 2012 6:20PM
Writing "SEE ID" is pointless.  My dad had that written on his card and when it was stolen the thief just made a fake ID, took it to Vegas, and took out a cash advance for 10k.
Aug 15, 2012 5:36PM

Some of you need to get your facts straight before you post wrong information.  If a card is signed you do NOT need to show ID.  The merchant can ask for it all day long if they want to, but you don't have to show it and they still have to accept the card, that is part of the merchant agreement.  This is taken straight from the Visa website. 

When should you ask a cardholder for an official government ID? Although Visa

rules do not preclude merchants from asking for cardholder ID except in the

specific circumstances discussed in this guide, merchants cannot make an ID

a condition of acceptance. Therefore, merchants cannot as part of their regular

card acceptance procedures refuse to complete a purchase transaction because

a cardholder refuses to provide ID. It is important that merchants understand

that the requesting of a cardholder ID does not change the merchant’s liability

for chargebacks. However, it can slow down a sale and annoy the customer. In

some cases, it may even deter the use of the Visa card and result in the loss of

a potential sale. Visa believes merchants should not ask for ID as part of their

regular card acceptance procedures. Laws in several countries also make it

illegal for merchants to write a cardholder’s personal information, such as an

address or phone number, on a sales receipt.

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 15, 2012 3:15PM
I always put on the back of my cards in the signature area, "ask for ID".  Many times they don't ask and the few times they do, I thank them profusely.
Aug 15, 2012 8:08PM
This is info I would try to impart to my customers for years when I worked in the banking field.  Most customers thought by not signing their credit cards they were keeping the crook from forging their signature, when in reality they were making it easier for the crook to sign the card and then not even have to try to forge their signature.  Of course no one reads the small print about the card not being valid if not signed and when told they could be held liable for fraudulent charges if the card was not signed, most customers did not believe me.  All I could do was alert them to the consquence and refuse their unsigned cards for transactions, which as you can imagine didn't go over well at times.  Thanks for posting this info.
Aug 15, 2012 4:07PM
What i have been finding is that some stores dont even have you sign the receipt or anything if it is under a certain amount. My local grocery store does not make you sign if the order is under $50, and I think I did not have to sign at Walmart one time because it was under $20, but at another Walmart i had to sign for  an order under $10.  I think all stores should require signatures no matter what the amount.
Aug 22, 2012 11:23PM
I used to sign my credit cards with Check Photo ID, until I tried using the credit card at the US Post Office. They would not take the unsigned card, nor would they accept it if I signed it on the spot. They told me that it was not permitted to take a unsigned card at a Federal Office. Just an FYI. I now sign  my cards and on the same line write check photo id.  Also..when a clerk actually asks for my photo ID I ALWAYS am sure to profusely Thank them.  Encourgement is a good thing.
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 7:45PM
That's why I write "Please check I.D." on the card in big black letters.  Now I have more and more people asking for my I.D. because of the lettering!
Aug 15, 2012 6:11PM
Where it say Sign here I wrote CHECK ID like they are suppose to.
Aug 15, 2012 5:35PM
I worked at a police department and all the officers I worked with advise not to sign, but put "SEE PHOTO ID". And when Business see this they automatically ask for a photo ID. Anyone out there can learn how to forge your name so how safe is that, but with a photo ID at least they can see if the person standing in front of them is the correct person. Also since your driver license has your signature they can also match your signature on the reciept. I have done this for 10 years and never has a business turned my card away.
Aug 22, 2012 6:45PM

Total B.S. I put "see I.D" on the back of my cards. I welcome a server at a restaurant or merchant to ask me to see my I.D. when I make a purchase. That way I know that they are paying attention and the scumbag that steals your card would have to completely assume your identity by forging an I.D. to match the card. I'm pretty sure that takes longer than 5 minutes to do.

Security expert? Yeah.... 

Aug 22, 2012 8:59PM
Write "photo ID only" in the space on back of your credit card.
Aug 22, 2012 5:02PM

I never sign the back of my cards.  I prefer the salesperson to ask for photo ID.

That is how I have it listed on the back "Ask for photo ID".

Too bad many places allow you to swipe a card and never show ID

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