Signature Required

Most of you know that for the past couple years I’ve given up using my “real signature” on credit card receipts. Depending on my mood at the moment, I might create a lovely landscape of barking kittens and turtle doves, or a rockin’ pickle party right there on the dotted line. The other day as I doodled a shoe sailing along an ocean of squiggly lines instead of my name, I wondered what happens to these after I hand them back to the cashier. Obviously nothing is in place to check their validity after the cashier asks to make sure that a floating boot is indeed my real signature. Very rarely am I asked for a photo ID, or even to show the back of my card – and even in those cases no one has denied me the pleasure of covering my receipt in peanut-shaped airplanes. What is the purpose of collecting a signature at all anymore if it doesn’t seem to mean anything?

I asked the internet. As I suspected, I’m not the only one wondering about this. First, some background facts:

The signature, required only for “card-present” sales, of course, is one of several fraud-prevention features built into the process of making a credit card purchase. The idea is that the clerk compares your signature (from your card or photo ID) to the one you just made on the receipt, but thats just never happened for me. This signing of credit card receipts seems even more strange when paying by credit card at a restaurant.

According to Visa, the signature on the back of your card is not solely to give the cashier a signature to check against the receipt, but to bind you to the terms of your contract with the credit company / bank. Also, the popular “trick” of writing SEE ID in the signature box apparently doesn’t fly. You’re still supposed to sign the card.

Fine, I’ll sign the card.

This guy also wrote up a nice article complete with photos of his “signatures” he used to test the value of a proper credit card receipt signature. After this I’m beginning to wonder if all my purchases in the past few years are technically invalid… Are they?