Credit cards


“First, the signature on the back of the card isn’t intended as a security measure;”

I’m not sure what makes you think it’s not a security measure. If it wasn’t, then why do they compare signatures?

Also Gfactor mentions:

“No doubt many will simply ask for ID, which is what you want them to do.”

Asking for ID except for when a card is unsigned is restricted for most credit card companies. From Visa:

“Although Visa rules do not preclude merchants from asking for cardholder ID, merchants cannot make an ID a condition of acceptance. Therefore, merchants cannot refuse to complete a purchase transaction because a cardholder refuses to provide ID. Visa believes merchants should not ask for ID as part of their regular card acceptance procedures. Laws in several states also make it illegal for merchants to write a cardholder’s personal information, such as an address or phone number, on a sales receipt.”


Since the column in question was by Staff Member gfactor, I’m moving this to Comments on Staff Reports.



This is a fair point. I’ll talk to Ed about an edit.

Right. But I’m talking about an unsigned card.

In context:

Of course, the Visa rules also make clear that seeing the ID in that case, without more, is unsatisfactory. (pdf p. 31) But they do it.

The back of my American Express does not have a space for a signature.

It does have my picture, however.

At every place I go to, except one, when I give them the Amex and they ask for ID, I tell them it’s on the back of the card … then they look, and say “OK,” and move forward with the process.

They aren’t looking at the picture long enough to compare it to me. They aren’t looking from the picture, to my face, to the picture, for similarities and details. Also, I was wearing a hat in the picture (normally not allowed), my glasses are almost invisible, and I have a mustache and soul patch. Presently, I am bald of head and face. I’ve never been challenged beyond the barest of glances at the back of the card - enough to see that there is, in fact, a picture … but not who the picture is of.

Never, that is, except for at Gamestop in Simi Valley. There’s one employee there who insists on seeing my ID when I use my Amex there. Even though I’m picking up a pre-ordered item that was ordered with this credit card online, and can only be picked up with this card. Even though she recognizes me from previous visits, and even called me by my first name on my last visit. Even though the depression of the credit card numbers goes through part of my picture on the back of the Amex so that you can visibly see that I haven’t taped a new picture over it.

And yet, every time, 3 times in a row now, she’s insisted on seeing my ID in addition to the picture on the back. “They’ve found a way to fake even that,” she says. Of course, she gives the driver’s license I show her no deeper of an examination than other merchants give my Amex.

So this is a slightly different situation than Visa (no sig, but there is a pic), but does still directly have to do with a merchant’s responsibilities and what they are not allowed to do.

Not that I am against showing her the additional ID (I kind of like that at least some merchants make a token effort to prevent fraud when so few others do), but is my picture being on the Amex legally or contractually enough? If I’m able to fake my pic on an Amex, wouldn’t I also be able to fake my pic on the Driver’s License (which she did not ask me to remove from my wallet)?

Maybe someday we’ll have a combo retinal + blood + fingerprint + DNA scanner that’s verified wifi+ unalterable magnetic strip + keypad entry + electronic signature + telepathic confirmation.

I wrote “CHECK ID” on the back of my credit cards and debit card, and merchants ask for it only half the time.

Same here. But about 10% of merchants look at the back of the card, and about 20% of those merchants ask for ID at that point.

I think a large part of the problem is that the link on the bottom of the page redirects to the wrong place. At least, it took me to Comments on Cecil’s Columns.

As I have found out the last two times traveling in China, writing “PLEASE ASK FOR ID” means that I have to sign the credit card slip the same or else merchants won’t accept it here. They don’t speak English so they are matching my signature to the above phrase and since they don’t match they make me sign it again.

Also, every vendor here in China has vigorously compared my signature to my identification and the signature on the card, sometimes calling in someone else to verify. Credit cards are a somewhat new phenomenon here so many seem unsure.

Quite true, stunningly bad advice for anyone travelling outside of the US of A. Above all to areas where English might not be spoken.

I’m very surprised at this. Why would Visa discourage the use of checking for ID? Is there some sort of legal issue? Wouldn’t Visa want merchants to use processes that help limit fraud?

Not at the cost of violating the agreement with the customer, which is that the signature, and only the signature, is to be the test. Visa (or whoever the issuer is) is the middleman, and has to have contracts with both sides, and cannot possibly undertake the burden of having special terms for each customer, which would then also have to be negotiated with each vendor.

They don’t have to violate it; they can change it any time they want, and the agreement gives them that right. Usually, language such as “This agreement is subject to change and may be suspended, revoked or altered without prior notice…” is included and which you agreed to when you signed up.

In fact, I’ve just reviewed a few cardholder agreements (randomly selected from Google results). None of them include a promise that ID will not be required for purchases.

Here are some examples:
Several of them say something like: “You agree to sign the back of the card immediately upon receipt.”

(hijack of sorts but on the subject of credit cards)

Are US credit card holders issued with PINs? Chip and PIN is now the standard security measure in stores here.

PINs are used for debit cards, which is why you are often asked “Credit or debit?” when you present a card. If you say “debit”, you enter your PIN on a keypad. If you say “credit”, you sign as normal. You can use a debit card either way. If you sign, it’s very rare for the merchant to check your signature - in fact, often you just swipe the card yourself and never hand it over to the cashier.

I never saw a card with a chip, nor a merchant who would have been equipped to deal with such a card. Some cards have photographs, though.

In the last few years here you have had to key in PIN regardless of debit or credit card. I don’t know if this has been implemented in many other countries. I think perhaps it has been in the UK but I’m not 100% certain. (smart cards introduced, but fairly useless as of 2001)

Must be an American thing as cards with chips are more or less European and other region standard now.

There are credit cards you can get with PINs for purposes of getting cash advances at ATMs.

Good column, and very informative, Gfactor. Ignorance fought! But the links in it are dead.