*Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.
This article was last updated Jun 09, 2020. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.
You’ve likely been stumped by a request for your CVV number at some point – perhaps, for example, when shopping online with a credit card and being asked to enter your card’s “security code.” CVV stands for “card verification value,” and it’s a three- or four-digit number which adds security to your purchase by proving you have the physical card on hand.
A CVV may is also often referred to as a credit card security code, as well as a CSC (card security code), CID (card identification code) or CVV2 or CVC2. We’ll walk you through where to find it, what it’s used for and security measures to implement keep your card details safe from theft.
- Where to find your credit card’s CVV number
- How a credit card CVV number protects you
- More security measures to take with your credit card
Where to find your credit card’s CVV number
On Visa, Mastercard and Discover credit cards, you can find the three-digit CVV on the back of the card, typically to the right of where you sign the card:
On American Express cards, you can find the four-digit CVV on the front of the card, typically to the right and slightly above the 15-digit card number:
Note that you won’t be able to find your security code on your credit card statement, because it’s not included for security reasons. Also be aware your CVV is not the same as a PIN.
How a credit card CVV number protects you
When you’re making “card not present” transactions, such as shopping online or paying over the phone, the CVV adds a layer of security. A merchant typically asks for the following card information when making card-not-present purchases:
- The name on the card
- The 15- or 16-digit card number
- The card’s expiration date
- The CVV
- The billing ZIP code
When a merchant requires credit card security codes from customers before allowing a transaction to go through, that provides an extra layer of security to prevent theft as CVVs are not stored by the merchant.
For example, if your credit card number is compromised in a security breach of a retailer’s system, the thieves might be foiled from making certain transactions without your CVV. And while merchants are allowed to store your card number, compliance standards prohibit the storage of CVVs.
But that doesn’t mean that the CVV will always be able to keep your card safe from scammers, cautioned Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at CompareCards.
“For one [thing], if someone has your physical card, they’ll also have the code,” Schulz said. “Also, hackers might be able to acquire the code when they steal your credit card data. Plus, not all retailers even ask for the code.”
Additional security measures to take with your credit card
To keep your card details safe from theft, there are a variety of security measures your card issuer may offer that can help you do that, including:
- Alerts whenever your card is used, or when a spending threshold is exceeded.
- The ability to temporarily freeze the card to prevent new purchases.
- Alerts whenever a transaction is suspected to be fraudulent.
- Virtual card numbers that can be used for shopping online.
- Alerts if new accounts are opened on your credit report.
Setting up spending alerts is a smart way to keep tabs on how and where your card is being used. And if you temporarily or permanently misplace your card, freezing it can provide peace of mind until you recover your card or a new one is sent to you.
However, using a freeze or lock feature is not the same as reporting your card lost or stolen – so be sure to contact your issuer if you need to file such a report and request a new card.
Virtual card numbers help protect your account because they’re randomly generated and temporary. So if a hacker obtains a virtual card number you’ve used, they won’t be able to make purchases on your card since the number has expired.
If your issuer offers alerts for new accounts and/or inquiries, it will likely be through a service you sign up for. For example, Discover cardholders can sign up for Discover Identity Alerts – which includes notifications if new credit cards, mortgages, car loans or other accounts are opened on your Experian credit report. And Capital One offers CreditWise, which includes email alerts whenever there’s a change on your TransUnion credit report (such as an inquiry).
It’s also wise to be alert for situations where your information may be at risk, such as:
- When using public Wi-Fi.
- When checking email (due to phishing scams).
- When using an ATM or at the gas pump (due to card skimmers).
Your CVV helps keep you safe, but it isn’t foolproof. At the end of the day, it’s up to cardholders to follow best practices for keeping their information secure.
“Be careful with the code,” Schulz said. “For example, if you write down your credit card number, don’t write your CVV in the same place. The last thing you want to do is make it easier for bad guys to use your card fraudulently.”