Dollar Scholar Asks: Does “See ID” on a Credit Card Really Help Prevent Fraud? | Smart Change: Personal Finances


Julia Glum

This is an excerpt from Dollar Scholar, the Money newsletter where editor Julia Glum teaches you the modern money lessons you MUST know. Don’t miss the next issue! Register on and join our community of over 160,000 scholars.

My grandmother is a very wise woman. She taught me so much – to say ‘yes, madam’, never ‘yes’; eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck; always break the eggs into a separate bowl while cooking in case they have gone bad…the list of lessons goes on and on.

But I confess that recently I became skeptical about one of his long-standing practices. As far back as I can remember, my grandmother wrote “See ID” in Sharpie on the back of her credit card instead of signing it. It’s supposedly for security reasons, but the more I learn about money, the less I think it’s legit.

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Does the “View ID” on the back of my credit card help?

I called Kathy Stokes, director of AARP fraud prevention programs, to run a fact check. She told me that the “See ID” movement dates back to when customers physically handed their card to a cashier. The theory was that “See ID” would foil a thief because their license wouldn’t match the name on the card even if they could forge a signature.

But, as Stokes points out, times have changed.

“When was the last time you gave your card to anyone other than the restaurant? she asks. “I don’t think it makes more of a difference.”

It’s not just my grandmother. People have been recommending the “See ID” strategy (sometimes abbreviated as “CID”) for years. It was highlighted by the TODAY Show. It appeared in a 2008 post on the Personal Finance Hacks blog, with an additional tip to “try writing the ‘See ID’ in a different color ink to get more attention.” It can be found on the Utica College Center for Identity Management and Information Protection website.

However, Mohamed Abdelsadek, executive vice president of insights and analytics at Mastercard, confirmed that this is outdated advice.

“Maybe at the time, maybe it made sense,” he adds. “It adds absolutely no security these days.”

In fact, Mastercard announced in 2018 that it was making cardholder signatures optional not only on cards, but also on transaction receipts. Citing advances in fraud protection, the same goes for American Express, Discover and Visa.

Abdelsadek says this was done in part because the use of signature as a means of identity verification was limited and difficult for merchants to manage. Mastercard has since moved to EMV chips, contactless payment initiatives such as tap to pay and biometrics. (It has a card with an in-display fingerprint sensor that activates whenever it’s dipped into a POS machine.)

“There’s a lot of technology around that,” adds Abdelsadek. “This creates a much more secure and seamless payment experience for customers.”

Stokes told me that “card not present” or CNP fraud is far more common than IRL card crimes anyway. What the Federal Reserve calls “Remote card fraud” reached $4.57 billion in 2016, up from $3.4 billion the previous year.

“It’s not when you’re in a retail store and you pay with a smart card. It is someone who accesses this information and then makes purchases online without being sure that it is really you,” she adds.

Fortunately, technology is also improving here. Financial systems can identify potentially fraudulent purchases and alert me before too much damage is done. Also, with CNP fraud, I am generally not responsible for any funds lost by the bad guys. Institutions have become “really good at detecting it because they are responsible for it”, according to Stokes.

In light of all this, I should remember to take advantage of the protections offered by my credit card(s). That’s because credit cards are governed by the Fair Credit Billing Act, which states that if I tell my supplier that a bad person has my card, the maximum amount I can lose is $50. Most credit card companies will do me better too, with zero liability policies.

Debit cards, on the other hand, are subject to the Electronic Funds Transfer Act. Depending on how long I take before notifying my bank of unauthorized charges, there’s no limit to how much money I can lose.

Another major difference between a fake credit card purchase and a debit card purchase? With credit cards, the tied up money belongs to a company. With debit cards, the lost money is mine – and if I have to, say, pay rent while the bank tries to recover my funds, I’m out of luck.

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The bottom line

Writing “See ID” on my credit card doesn’t do much these days because 1) identity verification technology has improved and 2) most fraud happens online anyway.

But there are still ways to protect my money from bad actors. I should use a credit card rather than a debit card for maximum protection. Stokes recommended enabling transaction alerts which let me know whenever my account is used. Abdelsadek says to also avoid giving my account or login details to anyone over the phone and changing my passwords frequently.

“The entire ecosystem has been designed to help protect the end consumer,” he adds. “But as a customer you also need to be warned, right?”

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