So on the back of many US credit and debit cards, there is a signature area that says something like "not valid unless signed." I notice many retailers and anyone who takes cards rarely ever checks the card for this. As an experiment, a new card I got recently, I delayed signing the back. I have yet to ever be questioned about this. Are card accepting businesses required to check for that signature or does no one really care as long as its a valid card and the purchase goes through. I get asked for ID many times, which is good that they are verifying that I am the owner of the card. Maybe asking for ID suffices in their book?

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    As an illustration of the difference in policy, I got a new credit card here in Canada two years ago and forgot to sign it. Nobody complained until a month ago when I went to the UK. The very first place I used it told me I hadn't signed it and asked for photo id. Commented Jan 12, 2011 at 22:58

7 Answers 7


The signature actually harks back to the days before every business checked every transaction online. When charge cards were introduced modems didn't exist. Nowadays, stolen credit cards are usually reported within 24 hours and the card won't work.

Businesses that face low fraud rates don't bother checking. They probably figure that a certain percentage of charges get charged back because the cardholder claims that they didn't make them, and the credit card company usually just passes the cost on to the merchant, so it's really the merchant who should be worried about fraud since he or she is going to pay for it.

The real question for the merchant is whether checking signatures actually reduces charge backs. If the credit card is stolen, how hard would it be for thieves to practice the signature on the card a few times until they can reproduce it well enough to fool someone?

Businesses that face high fraud rates are often more careful. In New York City, try buying some Nikes on 34th Street, and you'll get your signature checked, your driver's license checked, and they'll call up your 5th grade social studies teacher.

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    Seems like gas stations and any stores in high crime areas always prompt for the card holder's billing zip code these days. Makes sense...
    – dotjoe
    Commented Oct 1, 2010 at 20:38

I'm not sure if they're required to do so, but I have been neglecting to sign my cards for some time now. If they do check, that triggers an ID check, where they'll find my signature. I know of at least one person that writes "see ID" instead of signing their cards. He began that practice over 10 years ago.

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    By not signing your card, though, you leave yourself open to whomever finds your card signing it themselves, if you lose it.
    – Eclipse
    Commented Sep 18, 2010 at 2:27
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    Merchants accepting Visa and MasterCard and following the rules should not accept an unsigned card or one that says "See ID".
    – graywh
    Commented Sep 27, 2010 at 15:18
  • I generally both sign and write"demand ID". Usually they don't, but that seems to be starting to change.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 14:43

Per their merchant agreements, Visa and MasterCard say that the signature on the back of the card is the proper way to identify the card holder. If a card is not signed, the merchant is supposed to check your ID and make you sign the card before accepting it for payment. Merchants are not allowed the require an ID for paying with a signed card.

Of course, store employees rarely know all these things. Some will gladly accept an unsigned card. Some will try to make you show your ID.

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    Merchants are not allowed the require an ID for paying with a signed card. Seriously? I am not sure how I feel about this. Do you have a source for it? (I know, the merchant agreements, but I would rather not go spelunking for the info you have it readily available.) Commented Sep 27, 2010 at 15:42
  • consumerist.com/2007/12/…
    – graywh
    Commented Sep 27, 2010 at 19:31
  • privacyrights.org/ar/Alert-FS15.htm
    – graywh
    Commented Sep 27, 2010 at 19:32
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    Policies are changing now. This used to be true for every card, but not any longer. Discover can let a merchant demand ID for a charge before accepting. Mastercard insists that the merchant can NOT demand ID for a charge to go through. Consumerist Sept 2010
    – Alex B
    Commented Sep 27, 2010 at 21:18
  • I wish the Rules for Merchants PDF was still available online. I've been unable to find anything current on the Visa website.
    – graywh
    Commented Sep 28, 2010 at 19:37

It depends on the business. Some ask for ID and check against the signature (rare); some ask for ID but barely glance at it; some check just that it's signed (also rare); some ask for me to input my ZIP code on the card reader (KMart); and some don't do anything (most common). What they do doesn't seem connected to whether I put the card in the reader myself, or hand it to the cashier for them to scan.

It does seem silly to check IDs, etc., as there are places such as gas stations where I never even see an employee, and can spend just as much there as at WalMart, KMart, or the grocery store, all places that tend to do more checking.


Working retail myself, I do not accept an unsigned card without verification. If I received one I would ask for ID and verify the photo with the Name.

I would also let the buyer know it was unsigned and remind them that anyone finding it can sign it and use the card without issue.

Putting on the back of the card "SEE ID" is the way buyers have protected themselves from thieves as long as people are actually looking at the cards. How does this protect? 1- a lost card cant be signed by a complete stranger as there is already writing on the card. 2- It provides a photo identification for use.

I know with today's technology that this is going away and fewer people are actually checking but shame on those companies who handle the cards and don't look.

Obviously this process does not apply to self checks, but safety protocols there require a pin of some form that only the authorized user should know.


So my wife was at work today and got yelled at by both a cop and her managers for simply LOOKING at the card. I don't understand I also work in retail and of course I must see the card to ensure it is a real card, it is a very strict policy that we must have a valid physical card to run any credit/debit transactions. People put skimmers everywhere you use your card and can pick up the info off the strip and put it onto another card and use it without you noticing right away. With the right equipment they can put their name on it or the name on their fake I.d. so the only red flag would be them trying to use several different cards


Who cares? If your card gets stolen, most cards provide you with 100% liability protection. Just sign the thing!


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