Credit card myth: Showing ID at the register

“Can I see some ID, please?”  You’ve likely heard this question many times when making a purchase with a credit card.  If you are a person who wants to keep your private information private, you likely cringe when this request is made.  Actually, unless the item being purchased requires ID (tobacco, alcohol, certain movies or music, particular drugs, etc) the merchant cannot deny the purchase due to your refusal to show identification. 

This is a good thing, if you simply do not want to run the risk of having someone memorize all your vital info to commit fraud against you.  It’s not good if a crook knows that he does not have to provide actual identification to prove who he is.

Electronic banking makes purchases almost instantaneous.  Once your card is swiped or entered into a purchase, your bank will approve or deny the purchase within seconds.  Therefore, if the vendor can see that the card is valid, why should she ask for further proof that you are indeed the card holder?  The vendor knows that if someone has stolen your card, and you are not yet aware, any purchases made will come across as ‘approved’. 

Banks have instituted several identity features into a credit card.  That is why, when making a purchase where a bank machine is involved (at the checkout register, while pumping gas, etc) you are further ID’d by providing your zip code, phone number or PIN number.  This is in the assumption that if your card was stolen at random, there is no way the thief would be able to know this information.  Of course, if your card was stolen from your home or along with your wallet, this may not be the case. 

Another feature is the CVV number on the card (three digits on the back of a Mastercard, Visa or Discover, four digits on the front of an American Express) which is often used as ‘identification’ while making purchases online or over the phone.  However, all it takes is one deceptive waiter or cashier to easily memorize the CVV and your card can be compromised.  Websites such as , and the like make it easy for a bad guy to research your name as it appears on the card and obtain yor address and phone number with a few clicks of the computer keyboard. To avoid thi, memorize your CVV number, then tape over it or blacken it out to stymie the bad guys.

Many banks now print your picture right on the front of the card, making it impossible for a crook to use it—unless he or she looks like a long-lost sibling.  This one feature makes a great compromise for those not willing to have to offer up name, rank and serial number just to buy a latte and scone for breakfast. 

Certainly, most vendors are decent, and merely are looking to protect themselves from fraud when they ask for ID.  There are those, however, who deal in illegally obtained credit card information.  By being ever-vigilant with your information, you can protect yourself without having to offer up every little bit of personal info that you’d prefer to remain just that: personal!