It doesn't matter what you call them -- a card security code
(CSC), card verification value (CVV or CV2), card verification code (CVC) or
even a card code verification (CCV) -- those three or four digits provide an
additional measure of credit card security when you make purchases online or by mail order.
But, finding them can be confusing, especially if you've never made an online
purchase with that specific card. (See slide show, "Credit card security codes.")
The card security code "is one in a
series of steps that merchants can take to prevent fraud and verify that the
order is being placed by the actual cardholder," says Matthew Towson,
senior manager of community affairs for Discover Financial Services, adding that in most cases, the only way
for a cardholder to provide the security code is to actually be in possession
of the card.
Where you find the security code depends on the card. If you
have a Visa, MasterCard or Discover, turn the card over. In the signature box
or just to the right of it, you will see a series of digits. However long the series, the final three digits are the security code.
American Express cardholders can find their security code on
the front of the card, either to the left or right of the embossed 16-digit
card number. These four digits are printed in black, not embossed.
If you can't read the security code for any reason, call the
issuing financial institution on the customer service number listed on the back
of your credit card. Each financial institution will have its own guidelines
for how to handle illegible security codes, but it may require reissuing the card.
Since the security code is a safety feature, just like your
PIN number, you will want to protect it. Generally, as long as you have a
secure connection, you can safely provide it during online transactions. The
merchant is prohibited, for security purposes, from storing the code. However,
never provide it to anyone, whether you know them or not, in an e-mail (e-mail
is unsecured communication). Once someone has your security code, card number
and card expiration, it will appear to the online merchant that they are
actually in possession of the card.
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