Should you sign your credit card?

Around the Internet, the worthiness of signing the back of a credit card has been kicked around to a fair degree. One school of thought says, “no” because you’ll give the thief access to your signature, which can then be copied on checks. Another says “yes” because stores are not allowed to accept a credit card that isn’t signed.

Police in Apple Valley today released details of a brazen robbery in which a woman, paying her respects at a funeral home (located next to the police station, apparently) , had her car broken into in a “smash and grab,” in which the woman’s purse was taken.

The thieves then headed for the nearest Target store, and used the woman’s credit card to charge $529 worth of goods.

Question: How can someone steal a credit card and then, assuming it’s signed, charge $529 at Target?

Possible answer: Clerks don’t compare signatures.

Some people write “Require ID” in the signature space, some people sign their name which then — theoretically — is checked by a cashier against whatever is signed at the store.

050702_pureceipt.gifIt’s the first line of defense against credit card fraud, unless cashiers don’t check the signature. A TV station in Cleveland a few years ago found that most clerks in a random test didn’t bother.

Comedy writer John Hargrave once tried to prove how useless the credit card signature is, by signing credit card receipts in outrageous ways (see image), to see if any cashier noticed. He use hieroglyphics, stick figures, the names Mariah Carey and Beethoven, Kris P. Creme, and — while visiting the New England Aquarium — Shamu. No one said a word.

Queried on the policy of checking signatures, a Target Corporation spokesperson promised an official response later today.

Target spokesperson Bethany Zucco says they don’t check signatures on cards anymore because of the electronic machines in which customers swipe (perhaps the wrong term here, but you know what I mean) the cards through the machine. “We can’t discuss how because it’s proprietary but we did testing and found that it’s more effective and accurate than comparing signatures,” she said.

  • bsimon

    I put ‘See ID’ on my card. About 30% of cashiers ask for my ID. Maybe less.

    At stores with ‘swipe and go’ checkouts, it seems the potential for abuse is far higher.

  • minn whaler

    And then there’s the one about the guy at a gas station recently using a co-worker’s missing card.

    Apparently he/she was able to fill 10 cars at the same station with the same card within 10 minutes. He charged those who took him up on it, $10 to $20 a fill… walked away with cash, and 10 motorists drove away feeling like they got a real deal that day. Are we all that stupid? Greedy? Is it OK if you aren’t directly stealing from someone? I have begun to make it a habit of thanking any clerk that asks to see my ID even if they know me… every time they ask. Yet quite often I see the rolling eyes of a customer in front of me having to deal with showing their ID. Perhaps it is the general public’s reaction that deters cashiers from asking.

  • Bob Kelly

    I don’t sign my card and rarely get asked to see ID. When I do (and also when cashing checks, etc) I show a fake Press Pass that I made for myself probably 20 years ago. I have shown it hundreds of times and no one has ever questioned it. BTW, it is a NANO pass, National Association of News Observers.

    Bob Kelly