Jan
09
2008

Should you sign your credit card or put “See ID”

Dear Experian,

Should we put “See ID” or other verbiage on the back of our credit cards instead of actually signing the credit card to force retailers to check our identity?

- ORI

 

Dear ORI,

There is a lot of debate about your question, and no definitive answer. Here are the two sides of the discussion and what I see as the pros and cons to each.

The recommendation to sign your credit cards is based on the idea that the clerk will compare your signature to the signature on the credit slip. In theory, if the handwriting does not match, the clerk will know something is wrong and will stop the transaction.

Proponents of the “check ID” approach argue that the clerk is compelled to check the person’s identification, which they wouldn’t necessarily do otherwise. The theory is that the person trying to use your card fraudulently would not have identification matching the name on the card. The clerk could then stop the transaction.

This sounds reasonable, too.

Unfortunately, both are based on several flawed assumptions.

The first is that the clerk – often a part-time, teenage, high school student – will even look at the back of your card. The second is that the clerk will ask for identification even if the card tells them to do so.

The third assumption is that the person who has your card will not have false identification matching the credit card. A savvy identity thief will likely have very good false identification, which is the strongest argument for signing your card. While the name on the fake ID will match that on the front of the card, the handwriting for the signature is less likely to be identical.

Still, the odds of an untrained clerk identifying a reasonable forgery are probably pretty slim. Despite that fact, I lean toward signing your card. I think that signing the card gives the clerk a slightly better chance of catching the identity thief simply because it provides something to match against.

When you sign “check ID,” a sophisticated identity thief can simply whip out his fake drivers license. The clerk will see that the name printed on it matches the name printed on the card and the transaction will go forward.

And that puts you back at the beginning. Is there a better chance of being protected by the clerk comparing your signature to your card or the clerk taking the extra step of asking for ID?

So, the debate continues.

Thanks for asking.

- The “Ask Experian” team

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