If you’ve been down to your local stores lately, the ones that you frequent and where you’re constantly using your debit or credit card, it’s quite possible that you found they’ve recently installed, or seem to have installed, a new payment system.
What’s more, you may have noticed that this payment system doesn’t require you to sign anything—even when you’ve just charged your items to your credit card.
And if this has happened to you lately, you probably felt some emotional blend of puzzlement and elation. The elation came with saving yourself some time, even if it’s only five to ten seconds, while also getting out of the way of the customer behind you a little more quickly and smoothly than before. But…why didn’t you need to sign your name or your initials? How’s this new payment system working?
It’s not just your local merchants. The four major credit card issuers in the US—Amex, Visa, MasterCard, and Discover—have all dropped the signature requirement, at least in the US, for credit card signatures. Each card issuer has a little bit of a unique stance on other places, but if you’re using your credit card to buy stuff in the US, it’s very likely that you won’t be putting your little ol’ John Hancock on any receipts.
We have to say “very likely” because merchants are still permitted to require shoppers to sign their credit card receipts if they so desire. But the word on the street is that the vast majority of US merchants are happy that the costly and time-consuming requirement is going the way of the dodo.
Thanks to the spread of modern-day credit and debit cards with their EMV (that’s EuroPay, MasterCard, and Visa) chips, the kind that started getting rolled out about three years ago, merchants and card issuers alike are quite confident that today’s cards are so secure that there’s no need to continue the tradition of signing a piece of paper as ID verification.
And that’s a great thing because merchants and card issuers are also in accord that signatures haven’t been worth their supposed security layer for quite a while now.
You might have noticed when you go shopping with your cards that they hardly ever get checked for your havings signed them on the back. Then, when you do put down your signature, the clerk, waitress, etc doesn’t even bother to check to see if what you signed matches up with that supposed-to-be-there reverse-side signature anyway.
For instance, Robert Harrow, Credit Card Analyst with ValuePenguin, tells us, “No one ever really looks at those signatures for fraud’s sake. I’ve been signing my receipts at restaurants with a smiley face to see if anyone would say anything. And neither my bank nor anyone else said, ‘Hey, is this really your signature?’ So, that goes to show how little this was doing for people.”
Harrow, who doodled on his receipts as an experiment to prove a point, is hardly alone. Stories like his from everyday people who buy with credit cards abound.
It galls us here at E-Complish when those Europeans get ahead of us Americans, but we have to, uh, give credit where credit is due (ha). Many European, and Asian, countries began ditching the need for credit card receipt signatures a decade ago.
Why the slow on-boarding by the world’s biggest economy? Well, for complicated reasons, the American roll-out of EMV equipped cards was sluggish here. But what’s likely much more of a potent reason has to do with culture.
The US economy, at least originally, rose to power by way of private contracts between voluntary private parties, rather than by government top-down fiat. There are some merchants today who still want to hold on to some part of that tradition (which is attached to Americans’ fierce love of independence). For instance, when Harrow spoke with restaurant owners, plenty of them told him that they’re still reluctant to drop the signature requirement.
One of them said, “This isn’t going to change much for consumers. Now for restaurants, without this signature, that little signature was one of the little bits of evidence they had on their end that this customer entered into a contract with me and I delivered a service and I was expected to be paid for this service.”
But “not much” change for consumers adds up to a significant amount of saved time and hassle over the course of a year of shopping with credit and debit cards, and most merchants in most industries seem to agree that it saves them time and trouble, too. Plus, they want to please modern, rushed customers who relish saving even just several seconds worth of precious time whenever they can.
The truly big question that may be on your mind is, in the absence of signature requirements, are credit and debit (when charged like a credit card) transactions now sufficiently safe? According to the four major card providers, banks, and most merchants, the right answer is a resounding “yes!”
One spokesman for Visa says that by 2017 credit card fraud had declined by 66 percent at EMV-chip-enabled merchants. With such technology in place, each and every payment transaction by a card gets a one-time, unique code. The bank’s computers read and decode this information, and afterward it’s immediately discarded and destroyed. There’s nothing left over for a hackers to find and use.
Other Digital Age security techniques superior to signature requirements include “tokenization” and, starting in the very near future, widespread use of security biometrics.
The biggest scam and hacking technique that merchants and consumers need to beware of now is what’s called “shimming”. This means that the hacker trying to steal your card’s vital info “secretly insert a shimmer, a paper-thin, card-size shim containing an embedded microchip and flash storage into the ‘dip and wait’ card slot.”
However, responsible vigilance on the part of both merchants and card holders can with surprising ease thwart any shimming attempts. Advisable security measures for consumers include using any available “tap-and-go” option in lieu of card insertion, and using a debit card’s credit payment feature, as it’s far easier to get back stolen credited money than debited money.
So, trust us: the signature-less future is bright!