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Consumer Alert

'See ID' phrase on back of credit cards doesn't deter fraud

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ross Kerber
Globe Staff / April 27, 2008

Where did the practice originate in which people write "See ID" on the backs of their credit cards instead of signing them?

I believe all credit card companies print "not valid unless signed" on the back of the cards they issue. The credit agreement is with the credit card company, so why would someone think they can circumvent this requirement? Many say they are protecting themselves against fraud.

My business is not allowed to take cards without signatures. Would a transaction be considered invalid if an unsigned card were used?

Technically, cards must be signed with the holders' names, according to both Visa Inc. and MasterCard International Inc., the two largest payment networks, and cards with "See ID" or "Ask for ID" written on the back are not a valid substitute.

Some customers may think writing the terms on the panel on the back of the cards would deter fraud or forgery. But Visa's rules for merchants say that "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."

A spokeswoman for MasterCard gave a similar explanation, stating "the merchant must not complete the transaction unless the merchant has obtained an authorization from the issuer, asked the cardholder to provide identification, and required the cardholder to sign the card.

"Therefore, the cardholder gains nothing by not signing the card or writing in 'See ID' on the signature panel."

Ross Kerber can be reached at kerber@globe.com.

HAVE A CONSUMER QUESTION? E-mail questions to consumer@globe.com.

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