Should you write ‘SEE ID’ or sign your credit cards?

Last week I had lunch with Hardy, a Get Rich Slowly reader here in Portland. We chatted about life (and personal finance) over burgers and fries. He generously offered to pay the bill. When the waitress returned with the credit card slip, she asked to see his driver license.

“What was that all about?” I asked.

“Asking for my ID?” said Hardy. I nodded. He flipped over his credit card and showed it to me. He'd written SEE ID where his signature ought to be.

“Does that work?” I asked.

“Some of the time,” he said. “It gives you an idea of which places are paying attention. But not every place will accept it. It's technically against the rules because the card has to be signed. Plus, businesses aren't really allowed to ask to see your ID.”

“What do you do if they refuse to take your card?” I asked.

“I carry a backup,” said Hardy. “This is my main card. My back-up card has my signature, but I rarely have to use it. The only place that I know will refuse the main card every time is the post office. I have to use a signed card there.”

I was intrigued by this attempt to thwart identity theft, so when I got home I asked my Twitter followers:

My lunch companion doesn't sign credit cards, but writes “SEE ID” on the back instead. Have you ever seen this?

I was shocked by the number of replies. Apparently, I've been living under a rock. Over 100 Twitter users replied to share their experiences with this tactic. Here's what I learned:

  • Though many people write some form of “SEE ID” on their cards, it doesn't seem to matter. @khaibit2763 writes that only about a quarter of merchants actually check ID. Others write that almost nobody checks.
  • Many tweeters correctly noted that most credit cards clearly state that they are “not valid unless signed”. Technically, writing “SEE ID” invalidates the card and voids the contract with the issuer. Still, not all issuers seem to be aware of this. I found this ID-theft awareness brochure [PDF] from Capital One which notes that one way to protect your cards is to “write that the merchant must check ID on the back of the card”.
  • @lildebbie77 made me laugh with her reply: “When I waited tables I saw it once or twice a month. The craziness? Some people get mad when you ask to see their ID.” If you choose to do this, don't get upset when people comply with your request!
  • @katekashman uses a slightly different tactic. She leaves the “call to activate” sticker on the card. “Maybe a thief will think it isn't activated,” she writes. “It isn't much, but it's something.”
  • @lizweston noted that this is one of her 9 big credit card myths at MSN Money. In her article, she writes, “You'll certainly deter use of your card, because merchants aren't supposed to accept one that's not signed on the back, and that could affect you as much as any thief.” (Sidenote: Liz will be our guest on The Personal Finance Hour in two weeks!)
  • If you want to cover your bases, consider the advice from @aslaughter: sign the card and write SEE ID. And thank the people who actually ask to see your identification.

So, is writing “SEE ID” instead of signing your credit cards a good idea? It's hard to say. Technically, it's against the rules, and few merchants seem to notice, but it gives many folks a warm, fuzzy feeling. Plus, if you're worried about your card being rejected, you can always do what Hardy does: carry a back-up to use at the Post Office.

Here's a final word of caution: Jake Billo notes that if you present both your credit card and driver license to a skilled criminal, you're just giving them more ammunition to destroy your life. He warns that this practice may actually increase your risk of identity theft.

For more tips on protecting your ID, check out my post on how to prevent identity theft. You might also be entertained by the credit-card prank over at Zug. Photo by szlea. If you'd like to help with future GRS posts, follow me on Twitter!

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falnfenix
falnfenix

i used to only write “See ID” on my cards, but stopped when i learned it’s against card issuer rules to ask. now, i write both…and applaud those employees who do actually read the signature strip.

Mike
Mike

I sign the card, then, with a little space left write, “Ask for ID.” This works everywhere, Post Office included.

It is signed as required, but also notifies the reviewer to check me out.

Marisa
Marisa

Is there any reason not to both sign and write “SEE ID” on the back of the card? At worst, I suppose you’d have to sign the credit receipt with both your name and the tag “SEE ID” if you ran into an ultra-picky merchant (like the post office).

Roaming Gnome
Roaming Gnome

Signing your card is asinine as it means when someone steals your card they also have a signature to copy when they sign.

I don’t care that the card says it has to be signed. I never sign mine. I leave them blank.

Phill Bailey
Phill Bailey

I think I’ve been living under a rock too. In the UK, I’ve never come across this, although signing receipts is now somewhat outdated as almost every card is being issued with a chip to use in a chip & pin reader. My question however is thus: if you write SEE ID on your card and they don’t ask to see it, then does this not make you more susceptible to fraud because they’re not checking your identity in any way… that’s just my 2¢.

Chad
Chad

I’ve found the post office to be the only place that cares or even asks to see my card when making a purchase.

I’ve started drawing smiley faces and other silly things. No one checks anymore.

I remember when it used to take an extra 30 seconds (or longer) for a cashier to inspect a signature and ID when someone paid with a check. I was always scared they’d reject it because I parted my hair differently.

Manuel
Manuel

I do this on all my cards, I don’t carry and signed backups, the way I see it, if you don’t want to accept my card, you don’t want my business, I can go elsewhere just the same. I’ve never had my cards rejected, not even at the post office, even though they used to post that everywhere (they don’t seem to anymore around here…). I’ve actually noticed more merchants asking for ID lately, which I think is great, I always thank them for doing so, I never get annoyed (well, other than when they’ve already seen your ID, like… Read more »

Ann
Ann

You’re not alone under your rock, JD, because I have not heard of this before either.

I also like the idea of having a picture on the card. So many CC companies let you “personalize” your card with a picture, so why not one of you.

Brad
Brad

I have been doing this for a few years, and unfortunately almost no one checks my ID. I usually only get checked a few times per year. So, while I think that this is a great idea, I also feel that the majority of cashiers are indifferent when it comes to our security.

Brandon
Brandon

I can say in my case and the business I own that we are not indifferent. However the credit card companies themselves are. I deal with charge backs ( credit card fraud ) constantly and VISA along with master card both have spoken with me directly and told me that I am under no circumstances allowed to ask a customer for identification. They went so far as to say they would not allow us to accept visa if we did. Insanity correct? They also say that as long as the credit card number appears on the printed receipt and there… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer

I’ve never signed any of my cards. I don’t intend to give a would be thief my signature to copy. I leave all my cards blank and about 1/2rd of the merchants I deal with ask to see my ID. Most of the time, I’m shopping at locations where you swipe your own card, so the cashier never actually sees if there is a signature or not.

Zen
Zen

When I use my credit card in a store or shop, the vendor rarely even takes it anymore. At the register, I am required to slide it through the reader and then hit either “Debit” or “Credit”.

Sometimes I actually sign a paper receipt with ink, but more often, I actually sign the screen with a stylus. In either case, the cashier never even looks at my card.

Alan Wild
Alan Wild

I’ve been doing this for 6 years. I use my credit card nearly every day*, and maybe once a month someone notices and asks to see my ID.

* – yeah, yeah I know, cash is better. FWIW, I do pay the balance in full every month.

Kyle
Kyle

Here’s a funny website related to credit card signatures and what great lengths you must go to in order to have merchants take a look:

http://www.zug.com/pranks/credit_card/

On a serious note, it’s probably best not to sweat over this too much. All major credit cards (Visa and Mastercard, at least) don’t hold you liable at all for fraudulent transactions.

Caitlin
Caitlin

“Technically, it’s against the rules, and few merchants seem to notice, but it gives many folks a warm, fuzzy feeling” Oh, no, the cashier certainly notices. They are either not allowed to request ID, or have tried in the past and gave up. When I was a cashier, we used to hate the people who wrote SEE ID instead of signing (people who wrote SEE ID as well as signing were fine) because we had sooooo many people get really upset and start yelling if we asked to see their ID. Finally, the manager said we were not allowed to… Read more »

Chris K
Chris K

it annoyed you that people were trying to protect their finances? and what does the rate of pay per hour that you are making have anything to do with customers and their credit cards? I have worked both retail and Hospitality in the past and it never annoyed me to ask for someone’s ID. If a criminal where to completely sign over the spot where someone wrote see, now that would be suspicious. Also, the signature on the back of your card is not your ID. do you understand? anyone can just copy the name on the card. But not… Read more »

Tom
Tom

I have see ID written in bold black ink on the back of each of my cards. I get asked 75 or 80% of the time to see my ID. I always thank them for checking. I use my cards every day and all over the country.

As has been said, the Post Office is the ONLY place that has ever given me a hard time about using a card that has not been signed and says SEE ID. Those guys crack me up.

Massey
Massey

I agree with Chad. I used to write “See ID” on my credit cards and sometimes people would ask. But then I realized most people don’t even look at the back at all. So now I write “Smile” or “Thank you” on the back of my cards, so that way if people even take the time to look they get some immediate recognition. It has lead to several smiles and several “WTF?”s, which are both good for me.

the weakonomist
the weakonomist

Your reader you ate with may be missing one big thing. If an id theif takes his card, it’s probably because he took his entire wallet. If I see two cars in a wallet and one only has the sig, I’m just going to use that one. Perhaps I’d use the seeID one online or something. Most ID theft does not happen at the physical credit card level. It happens when someone hacks into a sales server and takes thousands of card numbers at once. Putting “see ID” on a card to protect from ID theft is akin to putting… Read more »

Ross
Ross

Jennifer – leaving the line blank really won’t help you. A theif would simply sign your name in their own handwriting!

Seamus
Seamus

I don’t sign my cards and actually get asked often for my ID, which is my goal. I have also seen employees looked at the back, see it unsigned, and just hand it back to me. One thing I have been told, not sure if it’s true or not, is that a thief using an unsigned card can be charged with that offense, but if you have it signed and they sign for the purchase, its forgery. As with an unsigned card, they aren’t technically forging your name, just making an unauhorized purchase. Anyone know if this is true? My… Read more »

rick
rick

some clarification: per VISA rules (dunno about others), a merchant is allowed to ask for ID (regardless of if the card is signed or not or says “SEE ID”), but the merchant can’t make seeing an ID a requirement of completing the sale (if the card is signed). i sign my cards. and i don’t show id. i don’t need a stranger having access to my credit card number, exp date, special 3-digit number on the back, my name, my date of birth, my driver’s license number, AND my address. from my point of view, giving all that information away… Read more »

angie
angie

To Jennifer, and those who don’t bother signing your card at all, aren’t you just making it easier for the thief to just make up a signature? Thus, it makes it easier for them to use your card and in the event that the cashier checks the signature, it will be identical and there will be no delay for them to use your card multiple times before you’ve noticed your card has gone missing and get it cancelled.

Hannah
Hannah

This was one of my biggest pet peeves when I was working at a register job. These people always handed me their credit card without their ID, and then acted shocked if I asked them for their ID. Then they actually had the nerve to scold me if I didn’t check their ID! It is NOT the merchant’s responsibility to protect you from identity theft. Keep track of your own credit card! I have seen a lot of people with credit cards that have a little picture of them on the front. At Bank of America it is called Photo… Read more »

Wilhelm Scream
Wilhelm Scream

I personally wouldn’t like to not sign my card. For me, if it says “Not valid unless signed”, that’s a potential problem if there’s a problem with goods and a savvy seller tries to refuse to give me a refund. Anyway, with all the chip&pin technology, who actually asks people to sign any more?

Zegi
Zegi

Hello JD, I just wanted to let you know that I am (sadly) unsubscribing from your blog. Though there is a lot of excellent material here, your feed format changed to delivering summaries to bloglines. Even though I have bloglines set to receive your full posts I don’t get them. If I wanted to read directly from your site, I wouldn’t be subscribed through a reader! I just wanted you to know that this behavior in bloglines is irritating enough that I just won’t read your site anymore. I realize there is probably some beneficial trade off for you, and… Read more »

guinness416
guinness416

Man, reading these and the twitter comments from ex-cashiers and waiters makes me feel quite bad for them in this situation. Another headache they have to deal with. Be nice to cashiers, people!

Jon Anderson
Jon Anderson

MY brother in law has “CID” in permanent marker on the front of his. I think he said someone at a liquor store did it for him, saying the writing on the back is useless. He gets asked a lot more now. I like having the extra ID check when I use mine, but honestly it is pretty worthless. Most big name stores have self-swipes for using your card now. No one even sees the card. Mine isn’t signed (I never think about it when I have a pen around) and that gets a lot of people to check, but… Read more »

Wise Money Matters
Wise Money Matters

I wrote “See ID” on a past credit card. I only ever recall someone actually asking for my ID once or twice. Most of the time nobody even checks. I never had anyone refuse the card.

JerryB
JerryB

I just wrote See ID on the front of my Visa. Thanks for the tip, Jon. I’ll see if it works.

The back of mine have both signature and See ID, I only get asked about half the time. Some places like Target don’t bother to ask for an ID or have you sign if it’s less than a certain amount.

mohonk
mohonk

I’m from Europe and today 90% of our credit cards are authorized by PIN code so the risk of fraud is limited.

Beth
Beth

I work part time at a local mall. Many people have not even signed their cards (Yikes!). One lady did sign it, managed to still write “see ID” on it and added “5’4″ brown eyes/hair, glasses”! A co-worker of mine used to work fraud at a bank card company and has lots of horror stories. He saw one of those cards with a photo on it – someone had stolen the card and attempted to glue their own photo over the one of the actual card holder. When someone gets grumpy over my asking for ID – I assure people… Read more »

DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad

Very clever idea, but that only works in real life (not online or “onphone”) and provided the person accepting it reads and takes the time . . .

Andrea
Andrea

I write See Id on my credit card and virtually no one asks to see my ID- I offer it and they wave it away.

Justin Dearing
Justin Dearing

I had my card completely unsigned for over a year. One day I used it on vacation in the island of Dumaguete in Philippines and I was forced to sign it.

These days I sign my credit card Aaron Burr.

Kim
Kim

I haven’t worked retail since 1997, but I used to see “SEE ID” on peoples credit cards all the time. I always thought it was a good policy, and many of the folks that did it would tell me that no one ever checks. I also used to give people with unsigned cards a pen so that they could sign their cards. Many didn’t and would tell me that they didn’t sign their cards to keep thieves from stealing them… But then wouldn’t a thief just sign the card?? Others would just scribble instead of signing a real signature, saying… Read more »

Mike T.
Mike T.

I do this on my cards. Here is my thought on this. If my wallet is stolen or I lose it, and they look at the charge cards and see that on the card, the thief might possibly just throw them away instead of using the cards. Hopefully my wallet never gets lost or stolen!

PETE
PETE

Golly, I thought I invented that many years ago 😉 The thinking behind this is that when you sign the card, you give the thief exactly what he/she needs to pull of their scam, they know how to sign your name. Secondly, a photo ID is required so they can match the face (Much harder to forge). It worked well for me as I have a signature which is not my complete name. (We only have a debit card now). The idea came about 12 years ago when an aquaintence had her purse stolen. With minutes checks and credit charges… Read more »

Jeremy Olexa
Jeremy Olexa

No point in having extra hassle of SEE ID on your card because a) as others have stated, merchants don’t care. b) If I lost my wallet, I’m calling up my CC companies and canceling my card before it can get used and disputing any charges that do get through, if any.

Dan
Dan

I do this. I’ve never had anyone reject it, and it has resulted in a few more instances where my ID was checked. When they do check my license I make sure to thank them for doing their job. Then again, I also do this if a cashier checks my license when I’m buying alcohol. I have a somewhat sloppy signature that probably wouldn’t be too difficult to fake. One thing that I don’t like about signing the back of the card is that it just gives the potential thief something to reference should you lose your card. If I… Read more »

sara l
sara l

I used to do this, but I don’t think it makes a difference. I feel like most places I shop don’t even bother looking at the back any more. It’s better practice to have a list of numbers to call at home and keep an eye on your account from home.

Irony
Irony

The only place I’ve worked I always checked ID was at Claire’s Boutique. The places I never checked included restaurants even when the tabs were huge. At popular retailers I ONLY checked cards that said “SEE ID” otherwise I just thought people with unsigned cards were silly to leave it blank for the criminal to sign in their own handwriting to make it easier to sign receipts. All the rest of the time I just checked the signature, and I’m an ameteur handwriting comparison specialist, not an expert! Easiest solution? Sign the card and write in bold (over and over… Read more »

Kevin M
Kevin M

Isn’t it against the store’s merchant agreement to ask for ID? I’m not sure if the card user writing “See ID” is enough to get around that or not.

Personally, I sign my cards, but no one looks at them anyway. My wife has used my card before and signed HER name with no questions asked. Most of the time the clerk doesn’t even check the card anyway – with the increasing number of electronic terminals to sign on, not to mention the under $25 rule.

hobo
hobo

been doing this for years, nobody really checks and i can say that i even use it at the post office and they don’t ask to see it either

June E
June E

My boyfriend has “See ID” written on his card. He doesn’t always get asked, but gives a sincere thank you when asked. I’ve never heard him mention being turned down anywhere. And he’s not surrendering his drivers license to anyone, just showing it from his wallet, so no one can really steal info from it that way.
My thought on it is that it probably doesn’t do much to deter theft because the same places that don’t check his id don’t check signatures, and I dont see him changing his purchase behavior based on who asks and doesn’t ask.

Todd @ The Personal Finance Playbook
Todd @ The Personal Finance Playbook

My wife is a see IDer, I’m a signer. People rarely ask to see her ID, but when they do she smiles and thanks them.

SR
SR

I’ve been doing this for about 8 or 9 years while living in Iowa, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis because of the risk of a thief forging my signature. The only time I have ever had a problem with it was at my former bank (Norwest at the time, somewhere around 2000) where the teller refused to perform a transaction until I signed the card, citing the “Not Valid Unless Signed” clause. However, once I signed it I was able to continue. I would estimate that about 90% of merchants I frequent in Minneapolis turn the card over to look, and… Read more »

Mary
Mary

When I worked as a cashier, I would frequently see “SEE ID.” I always checked, just because it makes people so happy and grateful.

But, I’m not sure I would have noticed if their ID didn’t match their card…

Ruth
Ruth

I checked ID’s when I saw “See ID” on the back. I cringed when I saw “CID” on the back (it actually took me several times to figure out what in the heck this meant.)

Susan C.
Susan C.

I started writing “Please Check ID” on the back of all my plastic cards after my debit card was stolen. Nearly a thousand dollars in charges were racked up, and the only charges my bank at the time didn’t reimburse were the ones where the thief forged my signature… copied from the back of my card.
I always smile and say “Thank you” when a cashier asks to see my ID. The only place I’ve had a problem is the post office, but not recently. And oversees I’ve gotten funny looks, but they accept it.

Jennifer B
Jennifer B

When is the US going to move to micro-chipped cards like they use in Europe? Or does any company issue micro-chipped credit cards in the US at this time? It would be a safety issue for us, and would certainly be more convenient for all of us travelers to the EU. My husband and I struggled to pay for things sometimes because our credit cards were not chipped. Most of the subway stations in Copenhagen only took cards, there was no way to pay with cash, and you had to have a chipped card to get the machine to work!

Kristin @ klingtocash
Kristin @ klingtocash

I sign and write See ID on the back. That way I’m not violating the card policy and most vendors I give the card to actually check. The thing that worries me is the number of places you can go and actually not hand the cashier your card. You only deal with the little machine and I’m not so sure that thing is checking my signature.

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