If you own a credit card (or even a debit card, for that matter) you must have observed that on the back of your card, there is a rectangular box in which you are entitled to sign. The purpose of signing the card is to prevent its misuse in non-pin transactions, whereby the person charging your card can verify the signature on the receipt he gives you, with your signature on the card. This way, even if anybody else gets hold of your card, he/she would be unable to use it to his/her benefit, without your knowledge. Sounds like the perfect way to counter credit card thefts and misuse?
Well, if only it were so, for hardly ever we come across cashiers and merchants who take the pains to verify the signature. So, if someone steals your credit card, walks confidently into a shop, shops for goods worth thousands and then presents your card at the cash counter, there is hardly any chances that the cashier would smell a rat. This is because all he does is give the card holder a receipt to sign on and the transaction is completed! Does it mean that it is useless to sign on the back of your credit card? Or does the saying, "Better be safe than sorry", hold true here as well? What do the credit card companies have to say? Continue reading to find answers to all these questions and more.
What if You Sign?
Most people believe that this is the right way to go and even the bank which issues your card would advise you the same. By signing the card, you are protecting it against fraudsters who may misuse a stolen or misplaced card. However, as stated earlier, if the folks at the cash counter fail to verify the signature on the card with what you "scribble" on the receipt or the credit card touchpad in a store, does signing your card really help? Moreover, nowadays, in most places you come across "self-checkout" points where you make transactions yourself just by swiping your card. In such a scenario, you don't even interact with a human being, so it is practically useless to have a signature on your card for "someone" to verify. Only in few instances, when you shop for very expensive stuff, does your signature get verified by the store staff.
On the contrary, some people believe that signing the card can do you more harm than good! What these people have to say is that if you sign the back of your card, and say your card gets stolen, then the crooks would have a sample of your signature that they can use to commit other fraudulent activity. Well, in spite of the fact that the idea is way too far fetched, the possibility cannot be entirely ruled out. And considering this as the worst possible scenario, one would consider not signing the card a lot safer. What's more, if a thief or crook who has your card is determined to use it to get some free stuff for himself, it would not be very difficult for him to forge your signature at the store, isn't it?
What if You Don't?
By now if you have the feeling that it is better to not sign the back of your credit card, then hang on! We'll also try to find out if even this really helps. For this, let's consider that you have lost your card that is devoid of your signature at the back. Now, if a crook gets hold of the card and walks into a shop with it, he can comfortably shop using the card, irrespective of whether anybody checks the back of the card or not! And if someone does ask him, he can just sign your name in any way he wishes to, on the back of the card (he can find your name printed at the front of the card!) and then comfortably replicate the same sign on the sales receipt. This makes it easier for the credit card thief who doesn't even have to make the efforts to learn to forge your signature!
Some people seem to have found a way out to get the best of both worlds: neither sign at the back of the card nor leave the space blank. Instead, you can write something like "See ID" or "Check ID" in the rectangular box. This way, you are asking the concerned person to ask for an ID proof (such as a driving license or a passport) for the transaction to be completed. While this appears to be effective against possible forgery of your credit card, all this again makes no sense if nobody is there to check the card. On the flip side, if somebody does check it and ask for an ID proof, you'd be at a loss if you fail to have one in your possession at the very moment. However, bringing in the requirement of a valid ID proof can definitely make the transaction a lot safer and prevent frauds to a great extent.
Now that we have three possible options before us, signing the card, leaving it blank, and writing something that requests the charger to ask for an ID proof, let's hear the viewpoint of credit card companies.
What Do the Credit Card Companies Have to Say?
When it comes to the credit card companies, be it MasterCard or Visa, they all insist that you sign on the back of your credit card. The reason they put forward is that unless a card has been signed, it is not valid for use and retail outlets are not entitled to accept such a card. Also, anything else on the back of the card, other than your signature, is illegal and hence, not acceptable. After all, they say, the signature signifies that you accept the legal terms and conditions regarding the usage of the card and that your contract with them stands valid. So, if you write words such as "Check ID " or "See ID" on the back of your card, you would be helpless if the store refuses to accept your card as valid. To be doubly sure, you can sign your name and write "Ask for ID" or something similar beside it.
Thus, we see that even if it does not make a world of difference whether you sign your credit card or not, it is recommended that you stick by the rules. So, we feel that the best solution is probably a photo credit card with your name signed at the back. What's your say?