|by Brooke Kaelin|
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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