What Is CVV Number on a Credit Card and How Do You Find It?

By Ashley Kilroy · April 01, 2022 · 8 minute read

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What Is CVV Number on a Credit Card and How Do You Find It?

Given that credit cards are the form of payment most frequently targeted by fraudsters, it’s crucial to understand how to protect them. One way that credit card companies attempt to secure your personal information is by printing a three- or four-digit number on the front or back of your card, known as the CVV number or CID.

This article will outline what a CVV number is on a credit card, where to find it, and how to protect it.

What Is the CVV Number on a Credit Card?

A card verification value, also known as the CVV, is a three to four-code printed on your credit card, and it’s a crucial part of understanding how credit cards work. The CVV on credit cards adds an extra layer of protection when you’re making a purchase online or over the phone since it’s harder to prove your identity when you’re not making a purchase in person.

While not every online merchant that accepts credit card payments may require the CVV in addition to your credit card number and expiration date, asking for this number helps the merchant to verify that you have the card in hand and that it’s not stolen. In other words, CVVs on credit cards are used to protect you against fraud.

CVV vs PIN: What’s the Difference?

PINs are personal identification numbers that you create when you open an account. Usually, PINs are four digits, though some may have more digits. If you need to withdraw money from your debit card or take a cash advance from your credit card, for example, that’s when you will use your PIN.

On the other hand, a CVV is a number provided by your bank or credit card issuer on your physical credit card. While some banks or card issuers may give you a PIN to use initially, you’ll typically have to change it within a certain amount of time. You don’t have the same luxury with the CVV, since the financial institution generates the number for each card. You may be asked to provide the CVV number when completing a purchase over the phone or online as an added layer of security.

How to Find the CVV on Credit Cards

Different credit card issuers print the CVV in different locations. For example, Mastercard, Visa, and Discover credit cards place a three-digit CVV to the right of the signature box on the back of your card.

At the same time, American Express places a four-digit CVV on the front of the card above your account number. American Express refers to the CVV as the card identification number, or CID.

The Purpose of CVV Numbers

In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 2.2 million fraud reports, with online shopping being the second most commonly reported type of fraud. To help combat fraud, many merchants require a CVV to complete a transaction. While merchants can store your card information, they are not allowed to store your CVV. Therefore, if hackers were to break into a merchant’s system, they wouldn’t get ahold of your CVV.

If someone were to attempt to use your card fraudulently, they would have to provide a CVV if the merchant requires it in order to complete the purchase. Thus, when making a purchase online or over the phone, the CVV on credit cards can act as a way to verify that you have the card in hand and aren’t making a fraudulent purchase.

However, it’s important to note that not all businesses are required to request the CVV number. In those cases, a thief may still be able to make a purchase using just your credit card number. If that were to happen though, there are steps you can take to get your money back, such as a credit card chargeback.

How Your CVV Protects You From Identity Theft

CVV numbers are designed to protect your card from identity theft. While a fraudster may be able to gain access to your other credit card information in a hack or through credit card skimming, merchants cannot keep your CVV or CID on file after a purchase is authorized.

So, in other words, if a fraudster hacks a merchant’s database, they might be able to pull your account number and credit card expiration date, but the CVV or CID is a lot more challenging to access.

Is CVV a Fail Safe?

CVVs and CIDs are not fail-safe. As of now, merchants are not required to request the CVV or CID. So, unfortunately, if a fraudster has your card number, it’s possible they can use it at retailers that don’t require the CVV or CID number.

Some retailers may require a CVV or CID once if you frequently make purchases through their online shop. Other merchants may not require your CVV beyond your initial purchase. Therefore, if a cybercriminal gains access to your account at that store, they may have free range of your credit card, potentially spending up to your credit card limit.

It’s also important to point out that cybercriminals can use software like malware to run off with your CVV or CID through various merchants. They may also use phishing techniques to steal your CVV number directly from you, such as by sending you an email that may appear official at first glance requesting this information. Additionally, if someone lifts your physical card, they will have access to all its information.

Fortunately, however, some credit card issuers are toying with the idea of using dynamic CVVs that change frequently. Using a dynamic CVV would make it even harder to use your credit card for fraudulent shopping sprees.

In the meantime, it’s worth taking a look at a credit card issuer’s security measures when applying for a credit card.

How Can I Protect My CVV?

No one wants their credit card information stolen. So, to protect your personal information from getting hacked, there are a few things you can do to protect your CVV. Whether you’ve just become old enough to get a credit card or you’re a longtime cardholder, these tips are important to keep in mind.

•   Protect your home WiFi with a password. Without a password, you leave your WiFi open to anyone who wants to join. Cybercriminals can use your WiFi to access some of your personal information, including your CVV.

•   Monitor your account activity frequently. If you keep close tabs on your purchases, you can quickly identify when something seems out of sorts. Every time you receive a statement, take the time to carefully review it before just going ahead and making the credit card minimum payment. If something is off, contact your bank or card issuer immediately.

•   Install antivirus software. This type of software can scan your computer for any fraudsters’ tools that could steal your personal information.

•   Avoid unsolicited or phishing requests for your personal information. Don’t quickly hand out your personal information if someone contacts you over the phone or via email requesting your personal information. For example, a thief may send you an email requesting you verify your credit card information to keep your account open. Contact your card issuer or bank directly instead of sending information over email if you need to verify any information.

•   Steer clear of unsecured websites. If a website doesn’t have “https:” in the address, it’s best not to use your credit card information on the site. Also, check all websites for the SSL padlock. If the website doesn’t have it, you’ll likely want to avoid using your information on the site.

•   Skip saving your credit card information when shopping online. Many websites offer you the option to save your credit card information to expedite checkout next time you make a purchase with the retailer. While it may seem convenient for you, it also makes unauthorized purchasing more convenient for potential thieves.

•   Avoid sharing photos of your credit card with loved ones. Sending photos of your credit card or posting them on social media gives people access to the information on your card.

•   Consider a VPN when using your computer outside of your home. Using a VPN while traveling and using public WiFi can help to keep your personal information secure.

The Takeaway

The CVV helps protect your credit card from fraud and theft. But, while your CVV adds an extra layer of security, it’s not fail-safe. So, it’s up to you to protect your personal information the best you can. For example, avoid giving your personal information out to just anyone or saving your credit card information when shopping online.

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Is it safe to give out your CVV number?

It’s usually safe to give your CVV number to merchants you trust. However, you should guard your CVV and make sure you’re only giving it out when you’re in a secure environment.

Can you use a credit card without a CVV?

Yes, some merchants don’t require a CVV to process online or by phone purchases. However, some retailers may require the CVV to complete transactions.

Can I change my CVV number?

As of now, the only way to change your CVV is when you request a new credit card. When the bank or credit issuer sends you a new card, they will generate a new CVV to coincide with the card.

Is CVV number confidential?

Technically, your CVV should be confidential. However, if it gets into the hands of the wrong people, they could have access to your credit card information, which they may use at their discretion.

Photo credit: iStock/Kateryna Onyshchuk

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