Does your signature matter?

August 20, 2010 · 8 comments

This guest post was written by Go Banking Rates, bringing you the important personal finance news, tools and strategies for the best ways to secure a high CD or savings account rate. Follow them on Twitter at @GoBankingRates and on Facebook at /GoBRates

In an age with rampant identity theft and credit card fraud, we do whatever we can to protect ourselves and our money. That’s what most of us think, anyway.

Take a look at your credit card. See the white strip along the back? Is your signature there?

Does it matter?

You may be surprised: It really does. It seems to be common knowledge that by not signing your card, you are somehow making it safer. Leaving it blank or printing instructions to see your ID instead will prompt the seller to check your identification and disallow an impostor from copying your signature. The problem with this well-know “fact,” however, is that it’s false. Here’s why:

Don’t Write “See ID” Instead of Signing

According to CreditCard.com, you must sign the back of your card. Writing “see ID” or “ID only” on the back of your Visa or MasterCard, for example, is not only pointless, it technically invalidates the card. A merchant isn’t supposed to complete any transaction that uses a credit card lacking a valid signature.

Don’t believe it? The VISA Rules for Merchants handbook specifically states, “See ID or Check for ID is not a valid substitute for a signature…A refusal to sign means the card is still invalid and cannot be accepted.” But wait, there’s more. The handbook also explains that if this rule is ignored, the person who processed the transaction becomes financially liable should the cardholder dispute the charge.

Signature is for Legality, Not Security

Most people believe their signature is required on the back of their credit card in order to establish identity ‚Äî the signature confirms they are the true owner of the card. Technically, the signature can be compared against the one on the receipt if a fraudulent transaction is suspected. It isn’t main purpose of the signature, though.

Your signature is actually meant to solidify a contract between you and the issuer of your card. It’s not considered valid if left unsigned because you have not fully committed to the customer agreement. By leaving this space blank or writing something other than your name, then using the card to make purchases, you are actually violating the terms of your agreement.

There Are Better Ways to Protect Your Credit Card

Think about it: How often does a merchant actually ask for your ID, no matter what’s on the back of your credit card? Most of these people never bother. When they do, they don’t even compare the signatures on both cards, they only match the names and maybe check your photo, too. Signing the back is not going to make any difference in the safety of your card.

This means your best bet is to go ahead and sign it. At least your signature would be harder to forge on receipts and you’ll be in compliance with your credit card company’s terms and conditions. Then, take some real, effective actions toward keeping your credit card safe from fraud:

  • Only carry what you need. Don’t put every piece of plastic you own in your wallet. Only bring a card if you plan to use it. If your wallet gets stolen, you won’t have to worry about canceling cards and reversing charges.
  • Write everything down. Record all of your credit card numbers, expiration dates and bank telephone numbers and keep this information somewhere safe. If a card is stolen, you can have it canceled right away, hopefully before any charges are made.
  • Check your credit report. Periodically reviewing your credit report will alert you to any fraudulent activity you were unaware of.
1 Nola

Thank you for this! I manage a store and this is quite an issue. And some people are very angry when we cannot complete their sale due to no signature. This is an urban myth that needs to be laid to rest.

2 danielle

@Nola – agreed! the research that came out of this was really interesting. so many people either sign SEE ID or don’t sign it. glad we could have your back on this one :)

3 mary m

The logic behind not signing a cc for “security” concerns has always miffed me. Say I steal your unsigned card, then I sign your name. Now if I sign a charge slip, my signature will match for sure. Never made any sense.

4 Lop at Rebates Money

With credit card chargeback, the most important thing is check your statements often to see if the charges are legit. In any case, always keep the receipts to remember the items you bought.

5 Annie

Holy cow, I’m so glad to read this!! Working in retail, it angers me no end that people don’t sign their cards (it says right on the back “not valid unless signed”) or just put “see ID.” And then don’t bring the ID with them. I’m going to have to find out what our store policy is with respect to the no signature aspect of it, but I’m going to keep this post to refer to anyway. I have a feeling it’s going to be something along the lines of “we’d rather not lose the sale than argue.” Perhaps this will change their minds. People and their (borrowed) money can be difficult. Thank you for this informations!!

6 Claire

In the early 90s I worked in a uni book shop in Canada. (I am Australian) and I came across this. I have never heard of it in Australia. The young man I was serving told me that if he put his signature on there, some one could copy it if it was stolen. I pointed out that I didn’t have to copy it now, I could just write anything on there. He said, but you don’t look like John Smith, and I pointed out that that may be so, but my boyfriend does. I had worked in a bank in my early career, and knew that the back of a card had to be signed. This has always puzzled me, and now at least it has been explained – it is a North American thing.

I had another incident in Canada where I refused to accept a credit card becasue it was expired, and oh my, the fuss – the customer told me I was mad, and was I hearing voices, perhaps I was going through a divorce (pardon?)but I stuck to my guns. Not saying this is particular to Canada, just that it was a time when I was working in retail so I was exposed to it a bit more, as opposed to my office job back hoome. Consumers in general can have some funny ideas about credit.

7 Khaleef @ KNS Financial

I never knew this! I always write “check for ID” on the back of my card. Of course, no cashier ever does, but I do it anyway. I guess I won’t anymore.

I also didn’t know that the signature was their to solidify an agreement, rather than to provide security!

Thanks for this information!

8 Wiseguy

What if I have already written “see ID” in place of the signature? Do I need replacement cards?

Solution:
I’ll change my legal name to Mr. See Id.

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