Fact Checked

Visa, Mastercard and other major credit card companies eliminate signature requirement

Woman signing payment terminalImage: Woman signing payment terminal

In a Nutshell

With advances in security features, like embedded chips, being prioritized over a quick scrawl with a pen or stylus, you may no longer be required to sign for credit card purchases in the U.S. beginning April 2018.
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The major U.S. credit card processors — Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover — are ushering in the future, and eliminating the need for a credit card signature.

The next time you pay with a Visa® credit card, chip technology will likely be the primary security feature used to fight fraud rather than your signature.

Visa is the latest credit card processor to say it plans to eliminate the long-standing requirement that customers sign receipts before it processes in-store transactions. Mastercard, Discover and American Express announced similar moves last year.

Dan Sanford, Visa’s vice president of product initiatives, calls it the “responsible next step to enhance security and convenience” for cardholders.

The credit card industry will collectively eliminate the signature requirement for retailers that use EMV chip readers beginning in April 2018, but you may still be required to sign receipts at stores that use older technology, as it’s essentially up to the merchants and their capabilities.

Signatures are no longer necessary to fight fraud.

Jaromir Divilek, Executive Vice President, Global Network Business, American Express

What does this mean for you?

Eliminating the signature requirement could make for a more convenient checkout process, including shorter lines.

“What consumers will find reassuring is that removing the need to sign for purchases will not have any impact on safety,” according to Linda Kirkpatrick, Mastercard’s executive vice president of U.S. market development. “While security remains paramount, we know that convenience is also a large part of what consumers want when they are shopping and paying.”

The credit card industry is evolving as signatures become obsolete.

With more people shopping online, fewer customers are signing for their purchases anyway. Even if you shop in-store, you may have noticed cashiers don’t always ask you to sign for smaller purchases.

From a security perspective, what’s to stop a criminal who steals your credit card from simply signing your name at the store? These days, many people forget to sign the back of their cards anyway, and even if they do, it’s unlikely the cashier will compare it with the signature on the receipt.

So credit card issuers are adopting new technologies they hope will increase security.

This includes technology that makes it more difficult for criminals to use your card, like multifactor authentication, tokenization, biometrics, and machine-learning algorithms designed to spot fraudulent transactions.

For example, Mastercard has been testing the use of fingerprints as a biometric verification tool. And Discover offers an additional layer of security with its Freeze It® feature, which allows cardholders to instantly stop payments if their card is lost or stolen.

Fraud has declined 66 percent at stores that use EMV chip technology.

The early results of relying on chip technology are promising — Visa reports that within two years of first launching the advancement, fraud has declined 66 percent at stores that use EMV chip technology to process payments.

As credit card payment processors begin to roll out these new advanced fraud protections, they are loosening their grip on outdated security measures that rely on signatures and personal identification numbers to process payments.

The signature requirement will be eliminated across the U.S. as well as in other locations, depending on the credit card issuer. Visa, Discover and Mastercard are eliminating the signature requirement in various places around North America, but if you travel to Europe or Asia you may still be required to sign. The signature requirement for American Express cards will be eliminated globally.

Discover is following suit.

“The time is right to remove this step from the checkout experience,” says Jasma Ghai, vice president of global products innovation at Discover.

About the author: Tim Devaney is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. He’s a longtime journalist who prides himself on being a good storyteller who can explain complex information in an easily digestible wa… Read more.