Re: Should You Sign The Back of Your Credit Cards?

On http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mcredit.html you state definitively that signing your credit cards is a bad idea. If anything, you should write “ASK FOR PHOTO ID” in the name field.

Excuse me, but this is bullshit.

I am an operations manager working at Sears. Credit card policy is to not accept the card unless it is signed by the cardholder. This is also every single credit card company’s policy. Notice looking on the back of any credit card that exists it says in tiny letters “NOT VALID UNLESS SIGNED.” This entire “not signing the card” thing is an urban myth. In fact, writing “ASK FOR PHOTO ID” on the back of your card VOIDS the card, because it is clearly not a valid signature.

While encouraged to compare signatures against the one of the back of the card, the associates often do not. This security method is very feeble i’ll admit. However, policy is policy and any retail store is not to accept the card or complete any transaction using the card until it is signed.

Paul Morgan
Let me raise another argument, if you don’t sign the card, what prevents the thief from signing your signature himself? Since signing a card gives him a perfect copy of your signature, why not let him sign your signature for you? Sounds like an excellent idea to prevent fraud. Even if you call the card issuer and notify them of the fraud, the thief already has the merchandise and now you’re stuck attempting to recover what money was stolen.

If preventing credit card fraud was as easy as “not signing the back of the card”, the issuing companies wouldn’t have bothered to put it there in the first place, or would have removed it from future cards. We live in a day and age where a six year old can steal your money just as easily as a 40 year old master thief. All it takes is a computer, a 16 digit code and an expiration date.

If you want to protect yourself from credit card fraud I suggest you shred your cards and use cash. I also suggest that the editors of this website actually spend some time “editing” their replies to questions and actually go to the card issuers for advice. I’ll tell you right now every single one of them will tell you your wrong.

Welcome pmormr. Here is a previous thread on this staff report: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=388559

The mailbag answers should be updated as information comes in. I agree that answer needs a serious update to modify the answer. We’ve discussed it in more than one thread.

I agree, the suggestion to not sign the card and put “See photo ID” on the back of the card is an embarrassment to the concept of the Straight Dope.

It seems not even the credit card companies have been completely consistent in what they tell people about this, so I wouldn’t be too hard on the staff for not getting it right.

In about 1998 or so I lost my wallet. I immediately cancelled all my credit cards, including my American Express.

While on the phone with the Amex customer service people, I asked them about signing the back of the card. The customer service rep told me to sign the card, and write “Ask for photo ID”. I don’t know personally if they would recommend the same thing today, but from what I hear other people say it seems the advice now is just sign and nothing else.

But I’ve done both ever since on all my cards. It seems to satisfy both the “not valid unless signed” part and to help get people to ask for ID.

They still don’t ask all the time however, even when they actually turn the card over and look at the signature. For years, it seemed like I only got asked for ID about one out of three times. However, in the last year or two it seemed to be getting more common.

I thought that credit card companies’ policy is that signing the card is good enough. Technically if the shop asks for photo id, then the shop is breaking the terms of the agreement with the cc company

No-one was interested in my signature when we were on holiday in the US- they just asked for some ID (a driver’s licence issued in a far-off, quasi-mythical place called Queensland was was fine), looked at the ID, then gave it back. No-one compared the signature I signed on the invoice with the signature on my credit card or on my driver’s licence.

Our policy is simply to compare the signatures on the card. If they don’t match, then we ask for ID. If they still don’t match, then sorry, no sale, thanks for playing, and we’re keeping the credit card.

Two favorite credit card stories;

  1. Mrsin picked up my card by mistake one day. Goes to the mall and when checking out signs the receipt with his obviousely male name. My credit card has my obviousely female name on the front and my signature on the back. The clerk looks at the card, turns it over, compares the signature on the card to the signature on the receipt, which are in no way alike, and completes the transaction.

  2. I’m at a store register with another credit card that I had not signed. Clerk says they can’t accept a cc without a signature and hands me a pen. I sign the card and clerk rings up the transaction and hands me the receipt for signing. She then compares the signature on the newly signed cc to that on the receipt. Surprise, surprise they matched.

:dubious:

I had the exact same experience a couple of years back.

Maybe the rep had just read the Staff Report?

Actually, if you think about how often people in your own line of business make mistakes or get the details wrong, it isn’t hard to imagine the same happening in other lines of business, such as service reps. The rep probably heard it from Sally, who heard it from Jared, who got the tip from Sylvia. So despite the instructions s/he was given 2 years ago that “See Photo ID” is bad form, she repeated it because it sounds good. I’ve heard so much bad advice passed in places like CompUSA, Best Buy, Petland Discounts, etc., that I refuse to ask for advice in those places. I’m better off researching the answer myself. Same goes for anyone I talk to on the phone.

The Post Office (U.S. Mail) has a sign stating that they will not accept cards with “See ID” or equivalent written on the back instead of a signature. I challenged this, since my signature is printed on the front of the card, along with my photograph, but they said it’s policy that the card had to be signed on the back, too. sigh

What I don’t understand is why the credit card agreement I had to sign for my bookstore requires my employees to verify signatures, but grocery stores and big-box stores just have you scan the card yourself and sign the touchscreen. They never touch the card or verify your name, much less check the signature. How do they get away with that?

No, it doesn’t, unless you’re writing it instead of a signature. I sign my cards and write “Check ID” on the back, and that’s perfectly valid.

Also not true. My agreement with the credit card processor in no way forbids me to verify ID. And if the card isn’t signed, I’m required to ask for ID.

Actually, it’s not, unless your name is “InvisibleWombat Check ID.”

Might want to check that again. The normal Visa/MC merchant agreement specifically forbids the requesting of secondary ID unless the card is unsigned or the signature is illegible. Things may have changed recently, but I’m not aware of it.

Here is a former thread on the same subject.

From the VISA guide on their merchant agreement:

MasterCard has a similar rule.

This makes me think of something else…

I notice that gas stations have recently put up small little signs by the tanks that say due to restrictions imposed by credit card companies (to prevent fraud) pay-at-pump transactions must be $50 or less. The pump will shut off at fifty.

Then right underneath it says “If you plan on spending more than $50, please insert your card again and make another transaction.”

I understand that is common sense, but doesn’t it kind of sound like, “remember, if you stole that card, you might have to make three transactions to buy a nice reserve of gasoline.”

Someone could stand at the pump for 8 hours, paying 50 at a time, until the card was declined. How would that prevent fraud?

Brendon

Don’t know if this is true in all cases, but situation this sort of happened to me. I was trying to fill my tank, but the pump was malfunctioning-- it would dispense a gallon or two and then shut off, then I’d have to swipe my card again and start over. After the third cycle my card was declined. I found out later that repeated transactions from the same merchant triggered the card’s fraud protection measures.

I’d have thought that as long as he signs the slip/screen “InvisibleWomabat Check ID” he’d be good to go.

I really don’t see anything that says your signature is the only thing you can write in that space. My cardholder agreement says I have to sign in the box. It doesn’t say I can’t draw a picture of my pet marsupial in the box also–or write “check ID” under the signature.

The post immediately following yours addressed this.

I know we’re talking about actual procedure and not the rationale behind it, but I’d like to ask if anybody knows why signatures are all you need to use your credit card?

Anybody with a couple of minutes practice can sign my name. Nobody who doesn’t look very much like me can use my ID, and even then only if they can get a hold of it. If security is any kind of priority at all, how can ID not be required?

(Maybe one day I’ll start a GQ thread asking why people think signatures are at all useful, but that’s not for here.)

Security is not a priority. The credit card companies have decided that it is worth taking the loss on fraud, in exchange for making credit cards so easy to use. Right now, anyone legally in posession of the card can use it. If they required i.d. or some kind of pin, they could almost completely eliminate fraud. But their cards would be used less.
The credit card companies try and make you think they care about you so much, they only hold you liable for $50 if someone illegally uses your card. It’s their lack of any security measures at all that causes the loss in the first place.

In my 20 or so years of using credit cards, I have never signed one, and never had a cashier require that it be signed. In most cases, when they see no signature, they ask for i.d., which I prefer they do. Signing the card does nothing to protect me as a consumer. A thief can sign any name he wants.

I sign mine *and *write “see ID”. I can understand one, the other or both.

What I don’t understand is why dudes leave it blank.