Millions of people use credit and debit cards daily to make purchases in stores and online. You’re probably familiar with the “signature” field on the back of the card. Maybe you’ve even heard the advice that it’s better to write “see ID” instead of signing.
VERIFY viewer Debra recently asked on verifythis.com if signing the back of your credit or debit cards is a big security risk.
“Wouldn’t these signatures help a thief copy your signature?” Debra asked.
Is signing the back of your credit card a significant security risk?
No, signing the back of your credit card is not a significant security risk.
WHAT WE FOUND
Signing the back of your credit card was once an important step in helping to prevent fraud. When a person paid with their credit card in the past, a merchant could compare the signature on the receipt with the one on the card. If the signatures matched, the merchant would approve the transaction. If they did not match, the merchant could reject the transaction. Signatures that didn’t match were a sign the card was possibly stolen, personal finance company NerdWallet explains on its website.
Nowadays, signatures are less relevant because newer technologies, like virtual wallets and EMV chips, have made in-person transactions more secure. Due to these security advancements, some companies, such as Mastercard, have started to phase out the signature panel on the back of their cards. In an email, a Mastercard spokesperson told VERIFY that as of April 2019, card issuers are no longer required to include a signature panel on the back of Mastercard products.
“Eliminating the need for signatures is part of an important shift toward advanced security technologies such as EMV chip, contactless payments and advanced fraud management technologies. These innovations provide both greater security and a simpler, more convenient payment experience,” the spokesperson said.
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For cards that still have signature panels, some credit card issuers and merchants require cardholders to sign the back in order for the card to be considered valid or active, or to show that the terms of the credit card agreement have been accepted.
“An unsigned card might be considered inactive and invalid, merchants may refuse to accept a card if it isn’t signed,” Capital One writes on its website. “You can check with your issuer or check your credit card agreement to see whether you need to sign your card.”
As for whether signing the back of your card can increase fraud, like VERIFY viewer Debra asked, Discover points out on its website that adding your signature does not make it less secure.
“Your signature is far from a secret, as it exists on every document, check and credit card receipt that you’ve ever signed. What makes your signature unique is your ability to effortlessly duplicate it upon command. In contrast, it takes much more time and effort to attempt to forge another person’s signature,” Discover writes.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Melissa Lambarena, a credit card expert at NerdWallet, also told VERIFY “it's generally safe” to sign the back of the card.
What about the advice to write “see ID” in place of signing?
Some cardholders write “see ID” to prompt merchants to confirm that their card is actually being used by the correct person and not stolen. It could also theoretically protect against a thief using the signature field to forge the signature. But Capital One, Discover and Lambarena do not recommend this.
“‘See ID’ might not fulfill the requirement to have the back of the card signed, so it might not be considered valid if you have ‘see ID” on there,” Lambarena said. “In order to just play it safe, go ahead and sign the back of your credit card or debit card.”
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For additional security protections, Lambarena recommends using a credit card instead of a debit card for purchases because credit cards offer greater consumer protections. She says people should also set up real-time text alerts to be notified whenever a purchase takes place on their account. People should also review their credit card statements diligently and report any suspicious activity immediately.
“You should report any suspicious activity at all, whether it's a signature or an authorized transaction, to your credit card issuer as soon as possible. Timing is definitely of the essence,” Lambarena said.
Capital One also shares a few credit card safety tips on its website. Those tips include the following:
- Don’t lend your card to anyone.
- If a transaction requires you to hand over your card, watch for any suspicious behavior.
- Save your receipts so you can compare them with your monthly statement.
- Shred your old statements and receipts when you’re ready to get rid of them. The same goes for your expired cards.
- Don’t give your account information over the phone unless you’re sure the caller is who they say they are. And if you’re not sure, ask to call them back—it can give you some time to check.
VERIFY reached out to American Express for comment but did not hear back by the time of publication.