Some More Things I Don’t Get About Cards

I like few things more than writing posts that cause consternation. A recent gem was on my confusion over debit cards and who can forget my assault on the irrational fear of identity theft. So why not combine the two themes?Credit-cards Lotus Head

Consumerism Commentary has a nice post today on writing "Check ID" in the little strip on the back of your credit card where you are supposed to sign it. Turns out that this is a relatively common practice and that it is against Visa and MasterCard’s rules. I guess I’m not really surprised at either of these facts.

Why would a person write "Check ID" on a card? I can only assume that it is an attempt to deter a potential thief from using the card if stolen. Does anybody really think this would work? How often do cashiers actually look at the back of credit and debit cards? And then there are all the situations, from the self-checkout line to Amazon.com, that there is no cashier.

Even if a cashier did read the back and asked a thief for ID, what would happen? "Oh jeez, I’m sorry. I left my wallet at home. I forgot that card said that. Never mind." The perp wouldn’t get to buy anything, but I don’t think an arrest would follow. How much of a deterrent is that?

More to the point, why worry about a thief using your card? Your liability for fraudulent charges is zero. There may be a hassle factor, you might have to spend time on the phone discussing the situation with a customer service rep, but when the dust settles you are very unlikely to be out any money. Getting the card replaced can also be annoying, but remember we’re not talking about a deterrent against stealing cards, only using them once stolen.

I just don’t get it.

A person might wonder why Visa and MC don’t make checking ID a normal part of the purchase process or have all cards made with photos of the holder, as some card issuers do. They are, after all, ultimately on the hook for the fraud. I can only assume that they have thought about it, done the math, and decided that the current system is better for business. The cost of making cards more annoying to use outweighs the small potential savings in fraud reduction. That tells you something.

If you are thinking that showing ID is no big deal, and why don’t we all just do it and then the world will be a better place, well good for you. Personally, being asked for ID when I use a credit card drives me nuts. I realize that I am more easily annoyed than average.  But I only want to dig the driver’s license out for police officers and bartenders. (Particularly bartenders. It’s been a while now…)

I’d be marginally less incensed if I didn’t know that cashiers aren’t allowed to ask for ID. According to the rules set out by Visa and MC, the only thing a store can check is that the signature on the charge slip matches the one on the back of the card. Period. If that Asian looking girl can sign "John O’Sullivan" just like on the card, you’re supposed to put her purchases in the bag and wish her a nice day.

That may not be a good rule, but it is the rule, and I don’t see why stores can’t live up to their agreements. I’m also pretty sure that as a middle-aged white guy I get asked for ID much less often than folks with certain other profiles.

I’m not exactly the only person annoyed by this. (For example, see this about Radio Shack and this discussion board for cashiers at the world’s biggest retailer.) But we objectors seem to be greatly outnumbered by those who actually ask to be asked. And we are, after all, talking about a serious matter: buying stuff in stores. It’s not like we are discussing requiring ID for something so trivial as, for example, voting. That crazy idea inspires all sorts of opposition.

[Photo: Lotus Head]

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