Credit card signatures are dying. And it’s about time.
Starting this month, four of the largest credit card companies—Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover—will stop requiring signatures on purchases. Major retailers, like Walmart, have already stopped using signatures. Target told The New York Times on Sunday that it will stop requiring customers to provide a signature in April.
Signatures have historically been used to confirm that a consumer wants to make a purchase and agrees to the amount he or she is being charged. It’s also an attempt to verify his or her identity in the event fraud occurs.
While in theory that might make sense, it’s become obsolete. When signatures are required, people often scribble a few lines on a keypad or receipt and move along. And since that’s not verified by the retailer, it’s impossible to know whether the person who signed is really authorized to make a purchase with a chosen credit card.
Worse yet, signatures have been phasing out for years. In October, MasterCard said as much when it revealed that 80% of in-store transactions it processes don’t even require a signature, according to CreditCards.com. The move to abandon signatures entirely, then, will only affect 20% of the purchases its customers make.
When Visa announced that it would no longer require signatures in April, the company suggested signatures do little to improve security and make for a less appealing purchase experience.
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“We believe making the signature requirement optional for EMV chip-enabled merchants is the responsible next step to enhance security and convenience at the point of sale,” Visa vice president Dan Sanford said at the time.
In its own announcement, American Express said that signatures, which had been used to fight fraud, are no longer the right verification method for the job.
Indeed, the credit card industry has been evolving its security and fraud-detection efforts for years. Now, credit cards feature security chips and tokens that safeguard credit card numbers. And with mobile payment options like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and others available that allow users to make purchases from their smartphones, signing a paper receipt feels rather outmoded.
But before you get too excited, there’s a caveat here. Credit card companies will stop requiring signatures this month and many major retailers will do away with the requirement, as well. But the move is voluntary. And in some cases, retailers, hoteliers, and other organizations might still require a signature with a purchase.
Those pesky signatures aren’t going to die that easily.