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Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Cards?

 
By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.
May 22, 2009
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Have you noticed that merchants rarely check the signature on the back of credit cards anymore? For small purchases, hardly anyone checks; for larger purchases, some stores check, but many don’t.

Most retail stores now have you swipe your credit card through a machine yourself, so you never even give the credit card to the clerk, making it even less likely that the signature will ever get checked. At gas pumps, when you pay with a credit card outside, you never interact with an employee.

So what does this all mean? If no one is checking your signature anyway, is there any point in signing the back of your credit cards? And does that signature really offer protection in case your card gets stolen?

One school of thought holds that signing the back of your card can actually be counterproductive if your card gets stolen. After all, it just makes it that much easier for thieves to forge your signature. Credit and debit cardholders who subscribe to this view often opt to write “See ID” or “Check ID” instead in the signature panel of their credit cards. The idea is that this offers an added layer of protection should their card be stolen.

However, major credit card issuers like Visa and MasterCard hold that a credit card is not valid without a signature on the back. From the point of view of credit card companies, the signature panel has a two-fold purpose: It enables merchants to verify signatures, and, by signing, you confirm that you agree to the terms of the credit card (you’re still bound by these terms if you use the card, even if you don’t sign the back, however).

In short, if you write “Check ID” on the back of your card, technically speaking, a merchant should refuse to process that credit card. Instead, to complete the transaction, a merchant should require the cardholder to sign the card and show valid identification to the store clerk.

So is there anything you can do to protect yourself if your card gets stolen? Some people recommend doing it both ways. Sign the back of your credit card, and put “See ID.” This way, if your credit card does get stolen, fraudsters would find it difficult to use your credit card. They wouldn’t just have to forge your signature; they’d also have to be able to produce an ID with your name.

While many retailers don’t look at the signature panel anymore, the stores where fraud is more likely to happen, such as electronics stores, are much more diligent about checking credit card signatures. So in that case, the dual-protection approach really can save you, should a thief make off with your credit cards.

Fortunately, in either case, you are protected against unauthorized charges to your credit cards, so you won’t suffer any financial loss, should your card be stolen. Still, the stress of having to deal with unauthorized charges is definitely something you’d want to do without.


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