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Reader Question: Can You Write “See ID” Rather Than Signing Your Credit Card?

This article was written by in Credit. 32 comments.


I can’t remember the last time I’ve signed the back of a credit card, and I use my credit cards (one for personal travel and big expenses, one for all other personal expenses, and one for business expenses) almost every day. It has never caused me any problems with cashiers; at the most, I might get a dirty look or I might have to show my license, but almost always the cards are accepted without much thought.

A lot of retailers have terminals where customers can swipe their own card, so many cashiers don’t even get the chance to check for a signature on the back. Even those who ask to see the card take no more than a quick look at the back. Most do nothing but punch in the last four digits into their point-of-sale computer and hand the card back.

It’s fairly common to write “See ID” or “Ask for ID” in the signature block on the back of credit cards but not every retailer reacts the same way when encountering this request. Here is a question I received from a Consumerism Commentary reader, Ryan:

I was recently told by a retailer that they would not accept my debit/credit card because I had not signed the back and wrote “SEE ID” instead. I was told the card was not valid and I was required to sign it in order to use it. I have done this same practice for over twelve years and have never been asked about it before now.

I was told they were cracking down… So the sale was denied and the charges reversed. First, is a signature truly required? If so, how can online and “swipe-less” transactions with my card be legal?

If you ask Visa or MasterCard, the policy is clear. For all in-person transactions, a signature on the card is necessary. If a signature is not on the card, retailers are instructed to require the customer to sign the card and provide identification.

Here is the related section of the Rules for Visa Merchants:

The final step in the card acceptance process is to ensure that the customer signs the sales receipt and to compare that signature with the signature on the back of the card… While checking card security features, you should also make sure that the card is signed. An unsigned card is considered invalid and should not be accepted. If a customer gives you an unsigned card, the following steps must be taken:

  • Check the cardholder’s ID. Ask the cardholder for some form of official government identification, such as a driver’s license or passport. Where permissible by law, the ID serial number and expiration date should be written on the sales receipt before you complete the transaction.
  • Ask the customer to sign the card. The card should be signed within your full view, and the signature checked against the customer’s signature on the ID. A refusal to sign means the card is still invalid and cannot be accepted.
  • Ask the customer for another signed Visa card.
  • Compare the signature on the card to the signature on the ID.

If the cardholder refuses to sign the card, and you accept it, you may end up with financial liability for the transaction should the cardholder later dispute the charge.

Some customers write “See ID” or “Ask for ID” in the signature panel, thinking that this is a deterrent against fraud or forgery; that is, if their signature is not on the card, a fraudster will not be able to forge it. In reality, criminals don’t take the time to practice signatures: they use cards as quickly as possible after a theft and prior to the accounts being blocked. They are actually counting on you not to look at the back of the card and compare signatures — they may even have access to counterfeit identification with a signature in their own handwriting.

“See ID” or “Ask for ID” is not a valid substitute for a signature. The customer must sign the card in your presence, as stated above.

MasterCard’s rules are similar, and most agreements between merchants and third-party payment processors reflect these rules.

You might think that would be the end of the story, but in reality these rules are almost never followed. The banks that offer credit cards on Visa’s network or MasterCard’s network, like Citi and Bank of America, may not even be fully aware of the signature requirement. I called Citi to speak to a customer service representative to try to gauge the bank’s preference. The person I spoke with seemed unfamiliar with MasterCard’s rule. She mentioned that it’s quite common for customers to write “See ID” on the back of the card and for those cards to be accepted. The representative understands most retailers will ask for identification and complete the transaction without requiring a signature.

According to the customer service representative the retailer has the authority to decline a transaction if the signature is missing even though most retailers don’t. Although Visa and MasterCard would like to require a signature, most retailers are willing to bend the rules to make the sale and remain customer-friendly.

Ryan also asked about online or “swipe-less” transactions. It certainly is legal to use credit cards for online or telephone-based purchases. In these cases, the “card-not-present” situations in which retailers can’t view the signature on the card, retailers are supposed to implement more security features such as the following:

  • Pre-authorize the transaction
  • Ask for the card’s expiration date
  • Ask for the card verification code (CVV2 or CVC2), the three digit code on the back of the card, or the four digit code on the front of American Express cards
  • Verify the card holder’s address (AVS)

It is up to a retailer how secure they want to make the transaction process. Making the process easier for customers, by not verifying address or not asking for a CVV2 code for example, also invites more fraud. Fraud results in chargebacks to the merchant, and merchants really do not enjoy dealing with chargebacks. (This is what happens when you call your credit card to dispute a charge you may or may not have made.)

You are at the mercy of the retailer or cashier when it comes to acceptance of credit cards. If a cashier won’t accept your card without a signature, you could try asking for the manager but don’t be surprised when a retailer won’t complete the sale without a signature. Not many are this strict, but those who do require the signature are sticking to Visa’s and MasterCard’s rules.

Readers: Do you sign the back of your credit and debit cards, leave them blank, or write “See ID?” Have you encountered any push-back from cashiers?

Photo credit: Ciaran McGuiggan
Rules for Visa Merchants, November 10, 2009

Updated January 16, 2010 and originally published November 11, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

I write “See ID” as well, and haven't had a problem. I started doing that mostly because my signature has some very big letters in it, and it never fits in small spaces.

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avatar Adam

Believe it or not, the strictest merchant on this policy is the US Post Office. I have been behind several people in line that had “See ID” on the back of their card. The employee told them that their card was not signed and that it needed to be in order to continue the transaction. They even caught my wife on this one! However, the truth is, how many merchants actually look at the signature anyway? Maybe 10%? Also, what about the companies that now allow you to swipe your card at a the terminal and not even sign the receipt? Seems like they are just asking for fraud!

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avatar Adam

Believe it or not, the strictest merchant on this policy is the US Post Office. I have been behind several people in line that had “See ID” on the back of their card. The employee told them that their card was not signed and that it needed to be in order to continue the transaction. They even caught my wife on this one! However, the truth is, how many merchants actually look at the signature anyway? Maybe 10%? Also, what about the companies that now allow you to swipe your card at a the terminal and not even sign the receipt? Seems like they are just asking for fraud!

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avatar LuluGal

I have written Ask for ID on the backs of my newer cards since I had already signed the old ones. The cashiers NEVER check my id…even when I ask if they are not going to check it. They also don't care what you sign on the little electronic thing because I have (sometimes) written the word 'signature' or drawn a smiley face and it still goes through. I think it is VERY disturbing that they do not check id…even when I show them my id some cashiers don't even bother to look at it.

Well at least they don't check my id unless I am buying glue (I am a teacher) or cough syrup (being around the kids all the time I catch colds easily)…since I have a very youthful appearance.

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avatar pharmboy

People often call the pharmacy and ask if it's okay with us if they send their son/daughter/neighbor/boyfriend/dog/etc. with their credit card and just have them sign. I inform that it's fraud to sign someone else's name, but we don't usually compare signatures or IDs unless we suspect something. People are routinely amazed by this answer.

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avatar ericabiz

Like Adam, the only place I’ve ever encountered where “See ID” won’t work is the post office.

-Erica

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avatar ericabiz

Like Adam, the only place I've ever encountered where “See ID” won't work is the post office.

-Erica

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avatar ericabiz

Visa/MC instituted a new rule recently that says you don’t have to sign if the purchase is under $25. Many retail merchants are now using this. (As I understand it, it depends on whether the merchant system they use is new enough to know about and support this.)

-Erica

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avatar ericabiz

Visa/MC instituted a new rule recently that says you don't have to sign if the purchase is under $25. Many retail merchants are now using this. (As I understand it, it depends on whether the merchant system they use is new enough to know about and support this.)

-Erica

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avatar Robert

I never really got the point of signing the back of the card. If I know the PIN number, what’s the problem?

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avatar Robert

I never really got the point of signing the back of the card. If I know the PIN number, what's the problem?

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avatar SteveDH

I have “Check ID” on all my cards and have never had a problem. One merchant mentioned the signature requirement but let it go. I’ll have to be careful and carry cash to the Post Office (Thanks for the info) otherwise if a merchant refuses – I’ll just walkaway from the purchase. I disagree with the card companies and believe that it might pervent unauthorized use, in a least 10% of the cases where merchants even look at it. The max you pay out because of theft is $50 so,if anything, the effort is protecting the card companies more than you. They should encourage it.

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avatar SteveDH

I have “Check ID” on all my cards and have never had a problem. One merchant mentioned the signature requirement but let it go. I'll have to be careful and carry cash to the Post Office (Thanks for the info) otherwise if a merchant refuses – I'll just walkaway from the purchase. I disagree with the card companies and believe that it might pervent unauthorized use, in a least 10% of the cases where merchants even look at it. The max you pay out because of theft is $50 so,if anything, the effort is protecting the card companies more than you. They should encourage it.

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avatar Anonymous

You don’t sign the back of your cards? Isn’t that asking for trouble?

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avatar mbhunter

You don't sign the back of your cards? Isn't that asking for trouble?

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avatar Financial Samurai

I sign AND write SEE ID always. What’s wrong with doing both? Do both folks!

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avatar Financial Samurai

I sign AND write SEE ID always. What's wrong with doing both? Do both folks!

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avatar John

I write “See Photo ID” on all of my cards. And never have any issues in the US, in fact, I’d say that I am asked for my ID about 10% of the time, which is unfortunate because I would rather it be 100%. I say “in the US” because on a recent trip to Australia I was asked for my ID at nearly every place. Still, all places accepted my card without too much of a fight.

Additionally, I disagree with the assertion from Visa that putting “See ID”, or some variation thereof, offers no protection. Since the majority of retailers, in my opinion, do not check the back, either signing or not signing offers no protection. But for those retailers that do check, I doubt that a thief will be able to come up with a photo id faster than it takes me to realize that I have lost my card, which I would guess would be in about 24 hrs.

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avatar John

I write “See Photo ID” on all of my cards. And never have any issues in the US, in fact, I'd say that I am asked for my ID about 10% of the time, which is unfortunate because I would rather it be 100%. I say “in the US” because on a recent trip to Australia I was asked for my ID at nearly every place. Still, all places accepted my card without too much of a fight.

Additionally, I disagree with the assertion from Visa that putting “See ID”, or some variation thereof, offers no protection. Since the majority of retailers, in my opinion, do not check the back, either signing or not signing offers no protection. But for those retailers that do check, I doubt that a thief will be able to come up with a photo id faster than it takes me to realize that I have lost my card, which I would guess would be in about 24 hrs.

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avatar Anonymous

“The banks that offer credit cards on Visa’s network or MasterCard’s network, like Citi and Bank of America, may not even be fully aware of the signature requirement. I called Citi to speak to a customer service representative to try to gauge the bank’s preference.”

The back of my Citibank mastercard says : “not valid unless signed” and thats pretty clear that Citi thinks. I don’t trust an individual customer servicce rep. from a bank to know all the rules and policies about anything.

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avatar freeby50

“The banks that offer credit cards on Visa’s network or MasterCard’s network, like Citi and Bank of America, may not even be fully aware of the signature requirement. I called Citi to speak to a customer service representative to try to gauge the bank’s preference.”

The back of my Citibank mastercard says : “not valid unless signed” and thats pretty clear that Citi thinks. I don't trust an individual customer servicce rep. from a bank to know all the rules and policies about anything.

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avatar Eric

Never did until I went to Australia and was told I couldn’t use my card unless it was signed. I signed it on the spot…weird experience though.

And did you know according to Visa/MC rules, a merchant is NOT allowed to refuse a transaction if the customer declines to present their ID (assuming the card is signed properly)?

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avatar Sam

When I worked in retail, I always had to deal with the customer with the unsigned card who would say “If I sign it then they have my signature to forge on the receipt.” To which I responded, “If you don’t sign it, they don’t need to forge your signature because they can sign your name in their handwriting when they get the card, then the signatures (with your name) match perfectly.” It is actually easier.

As for the post office issue, I ran into this once given that I had SEE ID on the back. I told the postal worker that if that was the policy then fine, SEE ID was how I signed things. It does say on the back “authorized signature” above or below the box where this is written. So, they should not be able to argue with me when I sign their little receipt or digital screen with “SEE ID.” Afterall, that IS my authorized signature!

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avatar H Lee D

I used to write only “ask for photo ID” but I’ve had problems with it enough times that I signed it AND wrote “ask for photo ID.” I also thank cashiers when they *do* ask for an ID.

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avatar unimax

Not any more. When traveling international, it becomes tedious to explain the process of using some other form of ID to confirm your identity.

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avatar Shaz

I rarely sign my cards and my husbands say see id … almost never do we get asked for ID unless it is store policy to ALWAYS ask (ie BestBuy). The place with the biggest push back … yep the post office … I wind up using cash or my debit card.

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avatar Bonnie

I used to write “see ID” in the signature box until I tried to use my card at the post office. Since then, I sign the back and write in big bold letters on the FRONT of the card CHECK ID. Sometimes cashiers stare at the “check id”, but rarely do they ask for ID. Only Borders seems to be pretty good about it. The 10% of the time that cashiers do ask, I’ve noticed that many of them don’t know that they’re supposed to be comparing both the name and the signature. Most seem to think they’re just supposed to compare the names on the ID and the credit card. Which means that very few are trained to check ID with a credit card transaction, which is probably why they don’t bother to check.

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avatar Joshua Townsend

Both Visa and MasterCard prohibit merchants from asking for any additional identification in the case of a signed card. Your signature on the card is all the identification that they can require, unless you brought an unsigned card into the store in the first place. So, by writing “See ID” on your card, you’re encouraging the merchant to violate Visa or MasterCard’s policies.

Yes, I know, these rules are often broken, almost as much as the rules that ban a minimum purchase amount…

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avatar carolyn

If a a thief makes false ID (“See photo ID” can be a Sam’s club ID, not so hard to get) and charges up $3000 to your card (which has “See photo ID” written on the back), who pay for this? Technically, you have broken your contract with the credit card issuer by not signing the card. Generally you are covered except for the first $50 if you have signed the card. If you haven’t…then you’re not protected.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

Carolyn: That’s not correct. You are not more liable for fraudulent charges if you don’t sign your card.

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avatar AJ

I fail to under stand how writing SEE ID on a card is going to protect you from Identity Theft when using a credit card. Because you are now offering them your Identity by GIVING THEM YOUR IDENTITY [id card]!

Don’t had over that ID Card, because you are giving them access to your ID.

Nobody can steal your identity when you are just using your card. However if you give your ID to them – you just enabled them to steal your identity!

This is the exact reason why VISA and MasterCard don’t require ID as a condition of sale. Because the merchant has no business knowing your personal information to complete a transaction.

So now, you handed over your ID – and gave a crooked cashier the details they needed to shop online at Amazon.com or any other online retailer with your credit card. (Credit Card Number, Name, Street numbers, and zip code). You did nothing to protect yourself (you can simply dispute any unauthorized charges), the merchant that you showed your ID to lost nothing [the cashier gained free Amazon/online product]. Amazon lost because you gave away information to a cashier that was not needed – breaking the security features of your card. You have now opened up Amazon or another online retailer to fraud risk! YOU broke the rules, and disabled their checks and balances on card acceptance, which now weakens the security of your card and increases risk to online retailers.

Don’t show ID. Showing your ID risks your identity, and cause problems for other retailers by opening up fraud “options” for not so nice cashiers that you are handing out your ID to. You are impacting 3rd parties that were not involved in your failed attempt to protect yourself from “nothing”.

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avatar Gruven

LONG LIVE AMEX!

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