Do You Really Have to Show ID When Using Your Credit Card?
In a recent MyBankTracker story about the antiquated process of signing your name after making a purchase with your credit card, a reader left a comment that pointed out the rules for showing your ID when using a credit card to buy something. I like to think that I'm an informed consumer, and like many, I want to know what my rights are when I make purchases with my credit card. Do stores really need to see my ID, and, why? Is my personal information in danger when I hand my ID over? My curiosity led me to an area where asking for ID is a normal occurrence: New York City's busy SoHo shopping district.
This past weekend, my friend and I walked along Broadway in search of a new pair of sunglasses. When my friend was ready for her purchase, she handed over her credit card to the sales clerk, who then asked for my friend's ID.
Now, knowing my rights as an informed consumer, I interjected and asked what the clerk would have done if my friend didn’t have her government ID. “I would have asked for anything else that has her name on it -- it doesn’t need to have a photo,” the clerk responded. I have a feeling most customers probably aren't aware of this, as I've never seen anyone refuse to show ID when making a purchase.
Piquing my interest, I asked if a library card or health insurance card would be enough. She replied, "Definitely."
My final question was, "What if a person didn't have any form of ID to verify he/she is the actual owner of the credit card?"
The clerk said, “I would not be able to accept the credit card. It happens from time to time with customers. In these cases, I just tell them to pay with cash -- there’s an ATM right around the corner if they don’t have cash.” Of course, that's assuming the person is using their debit card, and not a credit card. (I would hope that someone shopping for something small, like a shirt, would not turn to a cash advance at an ATM.)
It’s odd that some stores will ask for an ID while others do not. I have a feeling it's partly due to the fact that the store employees probably aren't informed about the credit card-ID process. That’s why I looked into the rules surrounding the “requirement” for IDs when shopping with credit cards.
Is it legal for businesses to ask for ID?
It is absolutely legal for a business to ask for your ID. However, card networks have rules that stores must abide by when it comes to dealing with verification -- these rules can vary depending on whether or not your signature appears on the back of your card.
Visa: If the card is signed, the merchant is not allowed to require ID. If the card is unsigned, the merchant must ask that the card be signed and that the customer provides government ID.
MasterCard: If the card is signed, the merchant is not allowed to require ID. If the card is unsigned, the merchant must ask that the card be signed and that the customer provides government ID.
American Express: There is no rule governing the requirement for IDs -- American Express simply wants the merchant to verify that the customer is the actual cardholder.
Discover: Under suspicion that a card is invalid, the merchant can request ID. If the card is unsigned, the merchant must ask for two pieces of ID, one f which must be a government photo ID.
Can a business refuse a credit card sale?
Generally, regardless of whether or not you provide ID, a business can refuse a sale as long as it doesn’t violate any discrimination laws. So, a store can choose not to process a transaction if it feels that the sale could affect the business in some way (e.g., customer is known for excessive returns or risk of fraud).
It doesn’t matter if you use a credit card or cash -- the store can reject your business.
Should I be worried about privacy?
Privacy is probably a part of the reason that you don’t want to give your ID to a sales clerk. On your ID, you have personal information -- such as address and date of birth -- that you wouldn’t want in the hands of a stranger.
Although it doesn't happen often, one scary scenario would involve an unscrupulous store employee who steals customer information from their IDs. This employee can use it to conduct identity theft and apply for credit cards under someone else’s name. Such criminal activity can happen at all types of business, including medical offices, where you highly value your confidentiality.
Here’s a recent case where a dental receptionist stole patient information, which was used to apply for credit lines at the Apple Store.
More realistically, however, it's more likely that you didn't have your ID with you at the time. If anything, sinister store employees are more interested in your credit card information.
Personally, I don’t mind handing over identification to prove that I am the owner of the credit card. It’s comforting to know that a clerk is checking that someone didn’t steal my credit card to make fraudulent purchases.