See ID? Should I Sign My Credit Card?

The question of whether to write “See ID” on your credit cards instead of signing them comes up a lot in financial circles. The idea is that, by writing, “See ID” on your card instead of signing it, you are encouraging retailers to check your ID to make sure your card isn’t being used fraudulently. It sounds like a good idea in theory, but there are several problems with this approach.

First, according to the card issuer agreement that most card companies use, your credit card must be signed in order to be valid. That’s why it says, “Not valid unless signed” on the back of your card. Technically, if an unsigned card is used fraudulently the card issuer could hold you liable for any losses since you did not abide by the agreement. That right there is reason enough to sign your card. It goes further than this, however. Technically, merchants aren’t even supposed to ask you for ID because most card issuers prohibit merchants from asking for ID. Some merchants still do it, but they probably aren’t supposed to. If you’ve written “See ID” on the back of the card a merchant is within his rights to refuse to accept the card, which could leave you stranded if you don’t have another way to pay.

Writing “See ID” doesn’t cut down on fraud, either. In today’s world a card can be used on-line or at self checkouts where a clerk isn’t there to ask for the ID. Most card thieves today don’t even use stolen cards in retail stores that require presentation to a clerk. They use them at gas stations, on-line, and at places where they can self-swipe the card. They also simply sell the number to someone who can make a whole new card with a different name on it. If a seasoned thief gets your card or card number, having “See ID” on the card won’t help. It’s very easy to use a stolen card fraudulently, regardless of what’s on the back.

Writing “See ID” on the card also won’t protect you from identity theft. Let’s say you give your card to an unscrupulous waiter. He asks for your ID, just as you asked him to. Great. But now he takes the credit card to the back, runs it through a skimmer, and copies your card number. Worse, what if he takes your ID with him or he memorizes your driver’s license number? Now he’s got everything he needs not only to steal your credit card number but to steal the rest of your life, as well. A driver’s license number, date of birth, and address opens up a whole new portal of identity theft and you just handed it all to him. It would have been better to just sign the card.

Another problem with writing, “See ID” on your card appears if you leave too much room on the back of the card. I’ve seen people write, “See ID” on the back of the card in small letters. This leaves plenty of room for a thief to sign your name to the card. Now, anything he signs in the store will match “your” signature. As long as the clerk only matches the signatures and ignores the “See ID,” the thief will get away with it.

So is there any way to reduce the possibility for fraud on your cards? If you’re really worried about this, the best cards are those that put your picture on the front. You can sign your card on the back and then write, “See photo” below your signature as an encouragement for retailers to check your identity. If your card doesn’t do this, you can get a card from a company like Capital One that lets you personalize your card. Use your own picture on the card and write, “See photo” under your signature. It isn’t foolproof, but if you’re really worried about someone using your card, it may make you feel better. It still doesn’t stop someone from stealing the number, however, and using it online or making new cards.

The best way to protect your credit cards is to simply be careful. Don’t shop on unsecured sites. Don’t let your card out of your sight. If you go to a restaurant, pay with cash so the waiter cannot take your card. Carry only the cards you use regularly and leave the rest at home. Look out for swiping devices that look like they’ve been altered or tampered with. Don’t leave cards out in the open where they can be photographed with cell phone cameras. Don’t give your card number out to a caller; call all merchants yourself. Finally, destroy all correspondence that has your card number on it, and shred old cards. Writing,”See ID” is more of a psychological comfort than a real help in protecting your card. Sign the card and then be very careful where and how you use it.

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2 Responses to See ID? Should I Sign My Credit Card?

  1. DENNIS says:

    HAVING A CREDIT CARD WITH A PHOTO ID WILL NOT INSURE THAT YOU WILL BE PROTECTED FROM IDENTITY THIEFT. BACK IN THE 1980’S ON THE SHOW 20/20 – THEY DID A SEGMENT ON JUST THAT. THEY GAVE AN ASIAN FIELD PRODUCER A CARD WITH A PHOTO ID OF A HASIDIC JEW (COMPLETE WITH A BEARD – WHO LOOK NOTHING LIKE THE FIELD PRODCUCER). ONLY ONE OUT OF FOUR CLERKS CHALLENGED THE CARD HOLDER.

  2. Teresa says:

    If you do write see ID on the back of your card do not be annoyed when you are actually asked for your ID. I worked in retail and people that wrote that on their card would get annoyed when you asked them for an ID.

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