Debunking the Myth: Is it Safe to Sign Your Credit Card?

Debunking the Myth: Is it Safe to Sign Your Credit Card?
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Point Editorial

There was a time when everyone signed their credit card before using it. But how many of us still do so today? 

Credit card companies still include a bar for your signature on the back of your card, but it isn't as relevant as it once was.

That doesn't mean it still doesn't need your autograph. 

Keep reading to find out why you should still sign your credit card — for now.

What is the signature bar for? 

In the early days of credit cards — before they had magnetic stripes, PINs, and EMV chips — the signature on the back of the card was the primary way for merchants to authenticate transactions. 

Every time you used your card for a purchase, you had to sign a sales slip. If your signature matched the one on your card, the transaction would be accepted. If they didn't match, chances are the transaction would be rejected because it signaled to merchants that the card might have been stolen.

But savvy fraudsters could still manage to fake your signature if they got their hands on your physical card, leading some people to start writing "See ID" in the signature panel. The idea behind this practice was that the merchant would then ask for a piece of photo identification, thereby adding an extra layer of security to the card.

Most major credit card companies still include the signature bar on the backs of their cards. But it no longer serves the purpose of deterring fraud since most merchants don't check the signature anymore, and other safety features now exist to authenticate credit card transactions. Instead, the signature on your card now mainly serves to ratify the agreement between you and your credit card issuer.

Does your signature make your card less secure?

The short answer is no. Your credit card is just as safe (or even more so) when you sign it.

The idea that signing your card compromises its security is a relic of a bygone era. People used to worry that if someone stole their card, they would also be able to steal their identity by imitating their signature. 

While this may have been true in the past, nowadays, your credit card contains many more security features than it used to, such as EMV chips that create a unique code for each credit transaction.

Credit card fraud and identity theft still happen, but the signature on your card isn't to blame.

3 options to protect you from fraud

Let's break down the three options you have when signing your card. 

You can either sign your name, write "See ID," or leave the signature bar empty. Each of these comes with consequences for making an in-person purchase. 

Below we analyze each option based on three factors: your coverage for your card's fraud liability insurance, your actual fraud protection, and the potential hassle involved in making a transaction.

Signing your name

When the back of your credit card bears your official autograph, you have:

  • Full coverage for fraud liability insurance.
  • Moderate fraud protection — A thief could potentially duplicate your signature, but mismatched signatures would lead the transaction to be rejected.
  • No hassle — If your card is signed, merchants aren't allowed to require photo ID to authenticate a transaction.

Writing "See ID"

When you instruct merchants to request an official form of identification before proceeding with the transaction, you have:

  • Full coverage for fraud liability insurance.
  • High fraud protection — A thief trying to use your card would have to present ID, meaning the transaction will likely be rejected.
  • Some hassle — While this approach might help protect your card from some fraudulent transactions, it also means you'll have to show your ID every time you make a purchase.

Leave the signature bar empty

If you decide to skip signing the back of your card, you have: 

  • Full coverage for fraud liability insurance.
  • Low fraud protection — A thief who gets their hands on your card could simply sign it themselves and start making transactions with impunity.
  • Some hassle — Merchants are technically supposed to ask for ID if your card isn't signed.

So should you sign your credit card or not?

The short answer is yes. Given all the pros and cons, there's really no reason not to sign your card.

Even so, it’s understandable if signing your card seems like overkill. Online purchases don't require a signature (be it with your credit or debit card) because they're protected by your card's CVV number, and in-person debit card purchases require a PIN. Also, these days, most credit and debit cards also feature EMV chips, which allow for added security by generating a one-time code for each transaction. But even so, in-person retailers are within their right to require a signature.

Plus, many credit card issuers have guidelines requiring cardholders to sign their card for it to be valid. So you might as well sign it.

How to protect your card from fraud 

Despite the many recent technological advances in credit card security — like chip-readers and point-of-sale terminals — there are still risks of falling victim to fraud. 

Thankfully, most major credit card companies — including Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express — have zero-liability policies that limit your legal responsibility for fraudulent charges.

Still, if your card gets lost or stolen, it's a good idea to contact your provider as soon as possible to freeze or deactivate your account.

Here are some other ways to protect yourself from credit card fraud:

  • Always use secured networks for making transactions. Free, unsecured WiFi networks are incredibly vulnerable to hackers and data leaks. Also, be careful of dummy websites that imitate trusted merchants. If a web address doesn't begin with "HTTPS," it's likely an unsecured site. 
  • Don't store credit card information online. Although entering your information manually every time you checkout may be a hassle, you can protect yourself from hackers and data leaks by not saving your card number in your browser or third-party websites. 
  • Don't post or send photos of your credit card. Sending a picture of your card is a bad idea. Even if you cover up some of the numbers, hackers can still try to make purchases with visible numbers. 
  • Use unique passwords. The best way to protect your online credit card accounts is to use a unique and complex password that you don't use anywhere else. You can use a password manager like LastPass to help keep your passwords strong and safe.
  • Only carry the cards you need. If you have more than one card, try to avoid taking them all with you everywhere you go. When traveling, it's a good idea to keep a detailed list of all your cards, including their full account numbers and expiration dates, as well as contact numbers for the issuers.  
  • Watch your accounts. Regularly log in to your online accounts to check for errors or suspicious activity. If you spot an unauthorized transaction, immediately report it to your card issuer.

The bottom line

If your credit card has a label on the back for your signature, go ahead and sign it. It won't expose you to any considerable risk, and it will add a little extra security to your in-person transactions.

But the signature bar could very well be on its way out. Many cards today no longer include it, and that number will probably increase in the future as new technologies make the signature irrelevant.

If you're looking for the latest payment card technology, try PointCard™. 

A transparent, easy-to-use alternative payment card, PointCard allows you to spend your own money while also receiving exclusive benefits, including unlimited cash-back on all purchases and bonus cash-back on subscriptions, food delivery, rideshare services, and coffee shop purchases. 

You also get fraud protection with zero liability, no interest rates, and rental car and phone insurance.

Join Point now.

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A group of writers, thinkers, & designers from varying backgrounds — all part of the PointCard team. Sharing perspectives on concepts in design, finance, and culture through an everyday lens.
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