Credit cards allow you to carry less cash for in-store purchases. However, credit cards also open up the world of online shopping. When checking out at an online retailer, you will need additional information besides your name, billing address, credit card number, and expiration date. Because you don’t need to sign your name or enter your credit card PIN for online transactions, you will need to enter your security code on your credit card.

cvc credit card

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What is a security code?

The security code or card verification code (CVC) is a three or four digit code typically on the back of your card. It is not embossed to prevent anyone from making an imprint of your card and possessing all the card information to make fraudulent purchases.

What is the purpose of a security code?

The security code is an extra level of protection for when you make purchases online, by mail or over the phone. It is designed to prevent fraud for CNP (card not present) transactions. The cardholder that has the security code essentially authenticates that they are authorized to make the purchase and to actually be in possession of the card.

Never leave your credit card unmonitored or in someone else’s possession. Card skimming is when a thief swipes the card through a skimmer or scanning device to extract the card details from the magnetic stripe. It only takes a few seconds to make a complete copy of your card. The thief can then produce a counterfeit card with the same card number and expiration date. These counterfeit cards can only be used in stores because of the magnetic stripe. Merchant databases should not store the security code number. In fact, if it is discovered that a merchant has stored this information, they may face substantial fines because it is against the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard or PCI-DSS guidelines. As a result, the thief cannot use the card in CNP transactions because he does not have the security code. This makes the thief easier to track and stop because he must be physically present in the store with the counterfeit card.

Where is the security code located?

The location of the security code is dependent on the card issuer. If you have a Visa, Mastercard, or Discover card, the security code should be on the back. It is usually in or near the signature box. It is the final three digits on the right-hand side. If you have an American Express card, you should be able to find your security code on the front of the card. It is either to the left or right of the embossed 15-digit card number. Your security code is a four-digit security code printed on the card and not embossed.

What to do if I can’t read my security code?

If you cannot read the security code for some reason, because it is faded or has been scratched off, you will need to contact your card issuer. Be sure to call the customer service number listed on the back of your card. It is possible that if you can’t read the security code, you may also not be able to read the phone number. In this case, carefully go to your issuing financial institution’s website and find the phone number there. Because you will be requesting a new card, they will need to verify your personal information to confirm your identity.

Additional Tips

Your security code is a safety anti-fraud feature of your credit card. Similar to your PIN, it is a series of numbers that authorizes a transaction. Never give your code out to anyone or write it in a text message or email. It is not embossed for this reason so that no one can access all three essential components of your credit card: the card number, the expiration date, and the security code. Your bank or card issuer will never email, call, or text you asking for this information. The only situation for you to give out your CVC is when you have initiated the call to a trusted retailer, for mail orders from a trusted retailer, and/or for online purchases at a trusted retailer. Furthermore, your online retailer ideally uses website encryption. In other words, the page that you check out on has the extra "s" in https:// to indicate it is a secured website to input your financial data.

There are various names and acronyms for a security code. It is known as a card security code (CSC), a card verification value (CVV or CV2), a signature panel code (SPC), card verification data (CVD), a card code verification (CCV), and the most common acronym, a card verification code (CVC). A retailer’s website may ask for any of these acronyms before they can process your transaction.

Your card’s security code is different from your credit card's PIN used to make ATM withdrawals and different from your credit card's PIN used to process transactions in a physical store. Please be aware that you cannot choose the digits of your card's security code. In fact, if you get a new credit card, your security code number will likely change as well.

Final Thoughts

In order to protect consumers, credit card companies continue to come out with new security measures to prevent fraud. A security code is designed to stop fraudsters from being able to use stolen data in card-not-present transactions. You can always find your security code on the credit card itself. At times, the bank may recommend that you memorize that number and then block it out or scratch it off as an extra measure of protection. Be sure you are confident that you will not forget the code or take measures to ensure you will have access to the code if you decide to make any physical changes to the card. As always, if you see any suspicious transactions on your account, contact your card issuer immediately.