The Credit Card Prank

Every time I sign a credit-card receipt, I wonder what the point is. I don’t recall any clerk ever checking to see whether it matched the signature on the back of the card. Apparently I’m not the only who’s wondered. Old Ziff-mate John Hargrave’s Credit Card Prank is the ultimate real-world proof that credit card signatures are worth even less than you think they are.


Update: I realize now that the prank linked to above is actually just the first chapter of the prank I really meant to link to, which is bigger and funnier.

Music: Bauhaus :: Ziggy Stardust

14 Replies to “The Credit Card Prank”

  1. On a similar topic, I recently bought a pair of trousers from a shop that was closing down. On leaving the shop, I realised that an electronic tag, of the kind that sets off alarms when you leave the shop, was in the pocket, not attached to the trousers but just loose. The alarm went off. Nobody followed me.

    I wondered whether the same tag would work in other shops with similar security systems. Over the next half-hour I went in and out of eight shops, setting alarms off all over the place. Nobody questioned me, nobody even gave me a second look.

  2. Scott, no question about it, go to Walmart sometime and see they require a signature on the paper and that signature is PRINTED on that receipt. You toss it out, and you have a signature (apparently valid) to be reused or used against you should you not shred it beyond comprehension. I find the whole use of plastic, either for convenience or not insecure and unintersting. I use cash only now, and have made it a hobby to find companies that refused to take cash (which btw is apparently illegal).

  3. That’s hilarious. It reminds me more than a little of attempts by several people (including Dave Barry) to write a poem so terrible that it would not be accepted as a finalist in’s regular sham contests:

    I agree that the signature thing is a waste of time. Apparently we’re not the only ones who have realized it, because several places here in progressive Boulder have stopped requiring a signature for credit card purchases. I use debit for most things though.

  4. I never sign my name on my cards. I take a heavy black marker and write “CHECK ID”. They nearly always do.

    The US Post Offices in my area won’t take your credit card if you’ve written ‘check id’ in the signature block. More and more places are getting the PIN pads though so I just need to put in my PIN rather than sign anything.

  5. Hrmm, that’s really interesting. I’ve just changed banks and am using a VISA debit card so I have to start signing things all over the place.

    Funny thing is though, they are asking to check them more and more than they ever used to when I used credit. But ironically, I often place my card upside down to them and they still just say ‘thanks, OK, have a nice day.’

    I’ve even deliberately signed my name differently from the normal one and they couldn’t have cared less.

    But, over the phone, I’m always asked for the little 3 digit number on the back these days. Not that I make many purchases over the phone, just when forced to.

  6. I had to stop using the “check id” trick because several stores had a policy of not accepting the card if it wasn’t signed.

    apparently their argument was that until you sign the card, you haven’t agreed to the credit card company’s terms and conditions for using the card. whatever…

  7. I’ve had the experience of forgetting to sign my card, going to pay for something, having them tell me I need to sign it, signing it in front of them, then having them check it against the receipt I just signed. Luckily, they matched! ;)

  8. That Prank article was high-sterical!

    I used to leave my signature spaces on cards blanks, and would get asked for ID about 70% of the time or so. I woulda preferred 100, but what are you going to do.

    Recently though, a couple stores have made me sign these unsigned cards. Since then, no one’s corroborated my signature (or asked for ID). Lovely.


  9. Some info from the world of banking (my company builds stuff for banks): In europe at least the bank is not required to check more then say 7% of all transfers again a signature on file.
    So it is never more then a random check.

    Secondly, the money is already paid when the receipt is printed. The signature is only there in case you complain about a payment (and of course if your payment ends up being part of these above mentioned random check).

    In most cases in scandinavia they are now demanding you use a PIN instead, which is both simpler and safer. In Norway your creditcard is also a means of identification, as your photo and details are printed on the back.

  10. Stores don’t want their sales clerks to accidentally get a customer angry by falsely accusing them of credit card fraud.

    I know one department store at least specifically tells its employees NOT to check the signature.

  11. I’m studying in Prague for the semester and one of the big things I noticed was that people do indeed compare your receipt signature to your card signature. Due to wallet friction my card signature is almost completely unreadable, but I havn’t had any problems so far.

  12. Those of you who claim that the signature is required on credit cards are simply ill-informed and this is NOT an “urban legend” in spite of what some people naively claim. I invite you to look at the website of virtually every credit card company. As an example, check out the Capital One website:

    Look in the section “How Can I Prevent ID Theft?” Capital One bank’s Fraud Group clearly states “Sign your credit card or write that the merchant must ‘Check I.D.’ on the back of your card.”

    So, clearly, those of you who say that signature is required are just flat wrong, and that it is even documented by major credit card companies (Capital One isn’t the only one – check Chase, MBNA, and others as well) to put “Check ID” in order to avoid identity theft.

    Only the U.S. Postal Service and my State Liquor Store have refused to take my credit cards. As a result, I use my credit card online on the USPS website to purchase stamps (when obviously the card isn’t even available to them) and I write a fee-free credit card check in the liquor store. Every other merchant seems to be intelligent enough to grasp that it is a lot more difficult to generate a fake State Driver’s license than to sign a fake signature.

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