Should You Sign The Back of Your Credit Card?

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There is quite a heated debate going on right now about whether or not you should sign the back of your credit cards.

Some people are staunch advocates of leaving the signature panel on your credit cards blank, while others prefer to write “See ID” because they believe it deters theft.

Some consumers simply sign, and don’t worry about it.

Let’s take a quick look at the real facts of the matter:

 

  • Leaving your credit card’s signature panel blank:

 

      Well, per the terms and conditions of every major credit card company, if you do not sign the back of your credit card, then the card is not valid. If merchants accept a credit card that is not signed, then they could be liable for the charges if your credit card is used fraudulently. If a clerk notices that the back of your card is unsigned, they are supposed to make you sign it in front of them, and then ask for your id.

The problem with leaving your credit card’s signature panel blank: If your credit cards are ever stolen, the thief can simply put their own signature in on the back, and then the signatures will match perfectly.

 

  • Signing the back with “Ask for ID”:

If a store clerk actually checks the signature panel on your credit cards, they will ask you for your ID. This could possibly help prevent identity theft.

 

The problem with signing the back of your credit cards with “ask for ID”: Your card isn’t valid unless it’s signed, and merchants do not have to accept your credit card unless you sign it.

 

  • Signing the back of your credit card correctly -

This is what Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover all say you should do. Your card is only valid once it’s signed. Signed card = smooth transactions.

 

The problem with signing the back of your credit card: If your card is ever stolen, then the would-be identity thief now has a nice example of your signature to copy. If they can get their signature to match yours very closely, then it can make it very hard for you to prove that you did not make the transaction.

 

  • Signing the back of your credit card and writing “See ID” :

This is probably the best option, since anyone who bothers to look at it might take the time to request your ID, or at least to check and see if the signatures match.

 

Why it doesn’t really matter one way or the other:

Have you detected the weak link here? It’s the store clerks. Nine out of ten clerks do not ever flip that card over to look at the signature panel. If they do, it’s very likely that they are new, not working during a busy time of day, or they’ve been ripped off before.

No use thinking those in-store digital signature panels actually compare your signature either – they don’t. The truth is, no one is out there checking the signature panel of our credit cards. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is. For some really hilarious anecdotal evidence of this, I invite you to check out The Credit Card Prank I, and The Credit Card Prank II.

Now, I am very sure that there are some good hearted cashiers out there who will doubtless prove me wrong (“I check the back of everyone’s credit card”)

I know there are good cashiers are out there. Some of them do their job, and do it really well. But 90% of cashiers could care less if your card is signed, or if the signatures match..

The point I’m trying to get across is this: No one is watching over us, or our credit cards to protect us from fraud. As consumers, this is our responsibility. We need to check our credit reports regularly, look carefully at our credit card statements, and not rely on the overworked staff at SuperMart to protect our identities.

Sign, don’t sign. Doesn’t matter.

If you do want to get the best of both worlds, then go ahead and sign your card so that it’s valid, and also write “See ID”. If you really want to feel better about the situation, then check your free credit report once a year, and review your credit card statements each month. You could also consider subscribing to a cheap monthly credit monitoring service that will alert you to identity theft if it happens.

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13 Responses to “Should You Sign The Back of Your Credit Card?”

  1. Matt @ Steadfast Finances Says:

    Excellent point – and I’ve got a question. What is the best pen to use when signing a CC? I’ve always used a Sharpie, with that funky ink that is almost impossible to remove unless you use pure ethanol.

    I remember an old commercial with a credit card thief erasing a CC’s signature and replacing with his own. So they recommended using permanent ink.

    Your thoughts?

  2. Jenna Says:

    Matt, I have no idea! I am going to research this and get back to you – I’m a pen addict anyway!

  3. jnagel@mylaptopgps.com Says:

    I’ve often wondered myself if I should sign the back of my credit cards, and also what type of ink. However, I never considered the possibility of ID theft simply because my signature was on the back of a piece of plastic.
    I must say, you make an excellent point there!

  4. Mac Jones Says:

    I generally don’t sign my cards when I first get them but it isn’t long before a store workers actually checks and I am then forced to sign it there any then. Here in the UK we use chip and pin (not sure what you use in the US) which has helped to reduce credit card fraud.

  5. delhirestaurateur Says:

    Well put across Connie. You’ve said “Now, I am very sure that there are some good hearted cashiers out there who will doubtless prove me wrong”. My restaurant is one of those places where we are really strict about checking signatures and we’ve had to face some really difficult customers for this. I’ve recently blogged on one such difficult situation.

    http://delhirestaurateur.blogspot.com/2008/09/sign-behind-your-credit-card.html

  6. Greg Says:

    I ran with the “Please See Photo ID” strategy for about a year. Surprisingly, many merchants (well over 10%) did actually did ask for the Photo ID. One day I was in a bad mood and sighed when they asked for ID, and the clerk heard my sigh and said “But you asked me to ask for it.”

    I finally moved to the signed plus “Please See Photo ID” after the USPS flat out refused the card unless I added my signature to it.

  7. boricua Says:

    @Greg, yes the postal service will NOT accept a credit when it simply says “Please See ID”. I had to use my debit card, even though it does say “Please See ID”. I think because debit cards comes out of your bank account, unlike a credit card.

  8. CC Says:

    I’ve been reading many articles on this and yet no one has considered a simple fact. Fake ID’s. Aren’t there teenagers running around with fake ID cards? If someone can obtain fake ID how does “See Id” on the back of the card help prevent a transaction from being completed. Do people believe that criminals are too lazy to go that far? They had the audacity to steal the card what would they not do?
    This not just credit card theft, consider someone assuming another person’s identity. At that point they become you. How does “See ID” help in such a situation?

  9. GOT CREDIT Says:

    ALL CREDIT CARDS SHOULD HAVE SOME SORT OF HIGH END DIGITAL SIGNATURE EMBEDDED INTO THEM, A LOT LIKE IN THE AMERICAN PASSPORTS, THAT WILL, ONCE SWIPED THRU THE CASHIERS MACHINE, SHOW HIM/HER YOUR SIGNATURE THAT YOU’VE SIGNED WHEN YOU APPLIED FOR A CREDIT CARD (LIKE IN U.S. IMMIGRATION WHEN ENTERING THE COUNTRY), AND THEN REFERENCE THAT SIGNATURE TO THE LEGAL ID YOU WILL HAND OVER TO THE STORE CLERK EACH AND EVERY TIME YOU MAKE A PURCHASE REGARDLESS OF YOUR GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION.

    FORGET ALL VISIBLE WRITTEN SIGNATURES AND “SEE IDs” IN THE BACK OF YOUR CREDIT CARDS, PERIOD!

  10. Rita Says:

    I work in retail, and I run into this stuff all the time. As soon as the person hands me their card I ask for credit or debit. When they say CREDIT, I immediately ask for ID without even looking at the back. Half of the time its written ask for ID. And about 80% of the time its someone using their parents’ credit card. When there’s no signature, I don’t make anyone sign it. I just look at their photo and their signature, and make sure the names match. But I just now realized people do have FAKE ID’s. Customers get angry when their card is already signed but what I tell them is, “It’s for your safety. You can drop your card and anyone can use whether it’s signed or not.” The mall I work in, customers always tell me, were the only store that has ID’d them.

  11. Barry Says:

    I work at a convenience chain, and we are required to accept only signed cards. I’ve had people tell me all sorts of reasons why they don’t, including “My bank tells me not to” “It makes you check my ID”. When I tell them then to sign anyway, they flip out. I’ve had coffee thrown at me, and all sorts of incendiary vulgarities. I just wish people would read the stuff that comes with their card before getting mad at me! Argh!

  12. Laura Says:

    Interesting. This seems to be a hot topic of debate, since I just found the same topic here.

    http://www.punchdebtintheface.com/2010/08/signature-matter.html

    I’ve gone months without having written anything on the back of my cards. Wasn’t there that one guy that tried to sign slips as outrageously as possible, using fake names, etc. and he could still use his cards. I think its kind of a moot point.

  13. Alison Says:

    my daughter wrote her signature on her card and managed to misspell her name. so she tryed to re write it next to it and now there is two signatures on the back and they don’t match! i’m looking everywhere for an idea of how to remove the other signature but i can’t find anything!

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