When a customer tries to pay with multiple unsigned cards under different names

Merchant guidelines can help you deal with a customer you suspect might be using a fraudulent card, but proceeding with caution is also key

Your Business Credit with Elaine Pofeldt

Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of 200kfreelancer.com. Her book, “The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business,” was released in 2018. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for CreditCards.com.

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One of my customers pays with multiple unsigned cards, each under a different name. Should I accept the cards?

If you suspect something might be off with a customer who pays with multiple cards under different names he hasn't signed, you may be right.

Card networks' merchant guidelines can help you deal with card payments when you suspect fraud. But make sure you and your staff also proceed with caution when dealing with a possible fraudster.

Expert Q&A

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Dear Your Business Credit,

I have a customer who comes into my store and pays for his house's meal using at least six different credit/debit cards. All are different names and none are signed.

Should I accept them? – Joe

Dear Joe, 

As your instincts are already telling you, something is odd here. Your customer has only one name, so the fact that he’s using different cards issued under six different names should be a big red flag, unless they are variations on the same name, such as Robert Jones, Bob Jones and Bobby Jones, for instance.

Even if six different friends allowed him to use their cards, he probably is not an authorized user for them.

See related: Know your fraudster: 8 types of card criminals 

Use merchant guidelines to deal with possible fraudsters

Fortunately, you have an out: the merchant guidelines from the card issuers.

For “card-present” transactions like these, Visa, for instance, recommends that you not accept any cards that are not signed.

“An unsigned card is considered invalid and should not be accepted,” Visa’s guidelines say.

According to Visa, if a customer gives you an unsigned card, the following steps must be taken:

  • Check the cardholder’s ID. Ask the cardholder for some form of official government identification, such as a driver’s license or passport. Where permissible by law, the ID serial number and expiration date should be written on the sales receipt before you complete the transaction.
  • Ask the customer to sign the card. The card should be signed within your full view, and the signature checked against the customer’s signature on the ID. A refusal to sign means the card is still invalid and cannot be accepted.
  • Ask the customer for a different signed Visa card.

For a more in-depth discussion about what to do if cards are not signed, see my previous column, “What merchants should do if a customer presents an unsigned card.”

How to treat consumers when you suspect fraud

Of course, when you ask a customer to go through these procedures, you will need to be sensitive.

Treat every customer the way you would want to be treated if, for instance, you simply forgot to sign one of your cards. There could be a reasonable explanation, and no one wants to be falsely accused. 

Tip

Tip: If you're a merchant looking to keep fraud costs down, knowing the difference between counterfeit card fraud and stolen card fraud, among other things, is key. To learn more, read "How retailers can avoid paying for fraud."

How to alert issuers of a possible scammer

What if you are pretty certain the customer is a scammer and you want to alert the card issuer? In that case, I’d suggest you follow the procedures for getting a “Code 10” authorization.

  • To request one, simply call the authorization center on the card and say you’d like to get a Code 10 authorization. The operator will guide you from there. 
  • Try to keep your approach nonchalant, so you do not alarm the customer.

The one thing you should never do is try to confiscate the card. You might have fantasies of prying the cards away from this customer and turning them in to the police, but that would be a big mistake. The customer could potentially turn violent if he felt threatened.

If you have a staff, make sure they are just as familiar with these procedures as you are. They could find themselves alone with a customer like this, and they need to be prepared ahead of time.


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Updated: 11-15-2018