Published On: Sat, Apr 4th, 2009

Does “See ID” Prevent Credit Card Fraud?

Credit Card FraudIn a rush to get where I was going last night, I was held up at the store because of a little dispute between the cashier and the person in front me. Apparently the card was ran and the cashier didn’t ask for an ID, the customer made a smart comment about it saying it says on the back of the card “See ID,” the cashier then remarked he was under no obligation to check ID, and I was wondering why are there eight checkout lanes and only one cashier!?

It started off really as a difference of opinions, or interpretations of opinions, or whatever you call two people simply stating their viewpoints of what should’ve happened. It ended up turning into a contest of who was going to get the last word, who had the smartest comment to say about the other in vague terms [“if only they would teach cashiers how to read…” and “this wouldn’t happen if people didn’t spend all their cash and need credit…”] and who had the most time to waste mine.

When I worked retail back in the day, I experienced customers just like this. They had their sob stories of how someone stole their credit card and ran it up on clothes, jewelry and adult videos [yeah, right — that’s probably where they left their credit card]. They were then on a mission to bring an awareness to cashiers around the world that this stuff happened as if we lived in a cave.

If there is such a paranoia about credit card theft, then why use them? Cash is still accepted where VISA is accepted. There’s no interest to pay on cash purchases. And there’s no proof you were buying adult videos.

It’s as if these stolen credit card victims have a bone to pick with every cashier. Bringing up the “See ID” isn’t about security, it’s about getting back at anyone who had nothing to do with your sob story. If you want someone to see the mugshot on your ID so bad, hand it over with the card!

Eventually a reluctant manager came out last night to speak with the disgruntled customer. Interesting enough, the manager asked the customer to sign the card right there, present a picture ID, or the card is invalid; and they don’t accept invalid cards. The manager went on to explain that if you haven’t signed the back of your card, you have not agreed to the terms of the contract with the issuing financial institution, so the card is no good. Merchants also have to accept all financial risks and liabilities if they do in fact accept a card that isn’t signed, even if they did check the ID.

Chris Monteiro, spokesman for MasterCard, says, “Technically, a MasterCard is not valid unless signed by the authorized cardholder. If a person has not signed his card, the merchant technically should not complete the transaction.” The merchant can only complete the transaction on an unsigned card if the cardholder signs the card in front of the employee and then produces valid identification proving their identity, Monteiro says.

Visa covers this topic in its “Rules for Merchants” handbook. There is a section entitled “See ID,” which says: “See ID or Check for ID is not a valid substitute for a signature. The customer must sign the card, in your presence.” And if the customer refuses? “A refusal to sign means the card is still invalid and cannot be accepted.” The handbook then reminds merchants that if they ignore this mandate and accept an unsigned card anyway, they risk financial liability should the cardholder later dispute the charge.

What if you sign it and write “See ID” next to the signature? Well, the manager also reiterated that financial institutions that issue the cards absolutely do not require any of their card users to have to present an ID in order to use the card. VISA and MasterCard even allow immediate family members to use the card and they may not even have the same last name. If a merchant demands to see an ID, the merchant is at fault for not allowing the financial institutions’ card users to use their cards without the hassle of having to show an ID.

In another section, the Visa handbook also prohibits merchants from demanding identification as a condition of the sale — so if the merchant does accept your unsigned card, they technically cannot force you to show identification. The converse is true for signed cards as well: A merchant cannot refuse a transaction if you choose not to produce identification, and a merchant does not have to ask for additional identification when presented a signed credit card.

I used to write “See ID” on the back of my cards, but every single time I got annoyed when they actually asked for it. Thank goodness 99 percent of the time they never did. Eventually all you could see was “VOID” repeated over and over where the strip wore off. Still to this day. And no one has not accepted my hard-earned money.

I thought about it last night, as the customer stormed out without his stuff as if anyone really cared that he didn’t buy anything. I was wondering if the cashier was going to get vigilant and look at the back of my card, either to practice his reading or feel obligated after the scene. And when he saw the “VOID” all over the strip, would he deny my purchase?

He rang up my stuff, looked at me looking at him, and when I handed him my card, he pointed to the swipe machine and said, “you can show me your ID if you want but we’ve been instructed not to handle cards anymore. That’s between you and your bank.”

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.