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Account management

What is a credit card CVV?

Credit card security codes help protect you and the business or nonprofit that’s processing your payment from scammers

Summary

A credit card CVV is a three to four-digit security code that appears on most physical cards. It may also be referred to as a CVD, CSC or CID number. Here’s why it exists, and where you can find it on your card.

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Credit card security codes help protect you and the business or nonprofit that’s processing your payment from scammers. Most charge cards and debit cards also have them.

A CVV is a three to four-digit security code that appears on most physical credit cards. It may also be referred to as a CVD, CSC or CID number.

Security codes aren’t as vulnerable as credit card numbers to data breaches and theft because service providers and merchants aren’t supposed to store them in their systems. The only place they appear is directly on the physical card.

So when a retailer asks for your security code, they’re essentially asking for proof you have the card in your possession.

See related: Virtual card account numbers grow as a way to fight fraud

How to find your credit card security code

The location of your card’s security number will depend on your issuer. But in most cases, you’ll find it on the back of your card, just next to your signature.

The security code may be three digits or four digits long, depending on the card issuer. Your issuer may also use a different label or acronym to describe it.

For example, Discover calls the three-digit number on the back of a Discover card a “cardmember ID” or CVV code (which in industry-speak stands for customer verification value).

American Express, by contrast, calls the four-digit number that appears on the front of an American Express card a card identification number (or CID).

The wide variety of acronyms that tend to be used as shorthand for security codes can get confusing since they’re often used interchangeably. Some retailers, for example, will ask for your card’s “CVC code” or its “CVV” code, no matter what kind of card you’re using. But despite technically having different names and acronyms, all credit card security numbers are used for the same purpose of helping a business verify your identity.

Here’s where to look when you’re searching for your card’s security code:

  • If you own a Visa card, you’ll typically find your three-digit CVV or CVV2 code on the back of your card, on the far right of your signature or just above it. Some issuers will even add a “security code” label just under the three-digit number.
  • If you own a Discover card, the three-digit CVD code will appear on the back of your card on the far right-hand side of your signature.
  • If you’re using a Mastercard, you’ll also find your card’s CVC or CVC2 code on the right-hand side of the signature box.
  • If you’re using an American Express card, you’ll find your four-digit CID number on the front of your card on the far right-hand side. Look for it above your card numbers.

You may also see a three-digit code on the back of your American Express card. But that is generally not the CID number merchants use. Instead, American Express may occasionally ask you for that number for its own verification purposes.

When to share your credit card security code

In most cases, you should only share your credit card security number if you’re making a virtual transaction online or over the phone.

In industry-speak, this is called a card-not-present transaction. Since the merchant can’t verify your identity by physically checking your driver’s license or by asking you to sign a receipt or enter a PIN, they may ask you for this special number instead before they’ll process your transaction.

Merchants aren’t required to use a security code to process a payment, though. So you may come across online retailers who don’t ask for it.

In rare cases, you may be asked to share your security code in person if a merchant, such as a vendor at a conference or a crafter at a fair, processes your card manually using a credit card imprinter or writes your card information on a piece of paper.

In this scenario, proceed with extra caution. Under PCI Security Standards, merchants are discouraged from storing your security code once they’ve processed a transaction. But a smaller business or hobbyist accepting manual card payments may not have such stringent security practices.

Decline to share your security code if you feel queasy about it or if you don’t regularly check your statement history for unauthorized transactions.

See related: Credit card identity theft has tripled since 2015

Why your security code is so important

Card-not-present fraud has soared in recent years as point-of-sale payments in the U.S. become more secure and e-commerce grows more popular. The dramatic rise in massive data breaches has also helped fuel the digital fraud boom. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, data breaches jumped 17% in 2019. The year before, they jumped 23%.

Asking for your code is one of the few significant defenses that online merchants have against processing a fraudulent payment. Although cardholders typically benefit from their issuers’ zero-liability policies, merchants are often hit hard by card-not-present fraud. Unlike in-store card transactions, merchants are typically held liable for online fraud.

Security codes aren’t 100% fraud-proof since a scammer can still get a hold of your card’s security code without your knowledge by manually copying it down or by breaking into a database that’s improperly storing your information.

But in general, it’s much harder for thieves to access a card’s security code than your card number or other data. Since the number is only printed on the face of the card, it’s also protected from other forms of card fraud, such as skimming the card’s magnetic stripe or shimming its chip.

See related: Do you need a chip-and-PIN card?

What happens if your credit card information is stolen

Although card-not-present fraud is a big problem for retailers and service providers that accept virtual card payments, you shouldn’t have to worry about losing money yourself to a credit card scam.

Credit card holders are protected from liability by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Most card issuers also go beyond the requirements of the law by promising customers that they won’t pay a penny if their card information is illegally used by someone else.

Bottom line

Requiring you to provide your credit card security code may slow down a payment somewhat by requiring you to track down and enter three to four more numbers. But merchants are asking for this data for good reason.

If you elect to store your card information with a retailer after an initial transaction, the retailer won’t ask for your security code for future transactions. So you won’t have to go digging for your card every time you make an online purchase.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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