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This article was last updated Nov 08, 2013, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.
A recent survey revealed that security is of paramount concern to cardholders when it comes to using new forms of technology to make their payments. More than 90% stated security is one of the most important, if not the utmost important factor they consider. Security concerns are definitely legitimate, especially in this era of scams and theft.
Interestingly enough, though, other consumer research conducted by Harris Interactive found that close to half of all Americans who carry credit cards elect not to sign the back, despite the fact that card companies ask them to as a security measure. Instead, many of them write “See I.D.” in the space where they are supposed to sign their cards. They believe that if their credit card displays a copy of their signature then it could make it easier for someone to commit forgery and use the card in a fraudulent way. In lieu of actually signing the card, they prefer to present their identification at the point of sale when directed to do so by a merchant.
Layers of Security
Refusal to sign can create problems, however, when you hand over your plastic to pay for something. Merchants are required to follow the guidelines outlined in their payment processing contracts with companies like VISA. Those rules are enforced in order to safeguard both you and your credit card company, and the goal is to prevent someone from using a credit card in an unauthorized manner.
Sometimes your card transaction will be denied thanks to protocols that are in place for your own good. Oftentimes when you swipe a card at a gas station that is not located near your home, for example, you’ll be asked to also enter your zip code as an additional security measure to make sure the card belongs to you.
If You Don’t Sign, the Merchant May Refuse to Swipe
Signing the back of your card is a layer of security that only works if two things happen; the card has to have your signature on it, and the merchant should compare the signature to one on another piece of identification, like your driver’s license or passport (unless you are in a state where that kind of requirement is illegal). Only when the merchant has verified that the two signatures appear reasonably the same, they can then continue with your credit card transaction.
The instructions on the back of the card clearly state, “AUTHORIZED SIGNATURE- NOT VALID UNLESS SIGNED.” Since so many people write “See I.D.” in lieu of a signature on the back of their plastic, VISA explicitly addresses that scenario, too, telling merchants that they have to ask the cardholder to sign the card. Once again, if your card isn’t signed and you refuse to sign it, the merchant is supposed to stop the transaction.
As a former server, I rarely asked to see someone’s ID if it was written on the back of the credit card. Admittedly, I never even look at the back of the card unless it’s facing towards me, I drop it, etc. Swiping cards in a restaurant is such an automated activity that we spend no time on the process.
Pin and Chip Cards & Signatures
What if it’s a PIN and Chip card, a newer type of technology widely used in other countries? Those cards have a computer chip inside that contains your card account information rather than the traditional magnetic strip, making them many times more secure than magnetic strip cards. When you use a pin and chip card, you have to enter your private PIN number, along with the requirement to check the card signature against a second valid signature. Circumventing the request to sign your card by writing “See I.D.” on it may be a popular trend, but your card company isn't going to budge. If you don’t sign they reserve the right to refuse to honor your card.
The Bottom Line
The truth is, credit card companies have a lot more experience with security than the average consumer does. They also have a lot more to lose if someone forges your signature, because most credit cards offer a $0 fraud liability policy. Whether we agree with the signature requirement or not, it is probably in our best interest to just sign the card.
If you are still worried about having your signature on the card, you can always carry a card that has your photograph printed on the front as an extra measure of security. Even if a crook manages to mimic your signature well enough to fool a merchant, chances are they won’t be able to also successfully imitate your face.
*The content in this article is accurate at the publishing date, and may be subject to changes per the card issuer.