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When to Share Your Credit Card Security Code

Jennifer Calonia, Chris Kissell, Tim Chen

Have you ever felt uneasy when someone on the phone asked for your credit card security code? Your instincts were on target.

Just as most people keep their Social Security and phone numbers close to the vest, so too should you guard your credit card security codes.

Security codes help reduce the risk of fraud, even though consumer protection laws limit your liability for credit card fraud to $50. In most cases, if you promptly report an incident, you won't owe anything.

Yes, you should exercise caution in sharing your card's security code, but you're still protected, even if your card is misused.

[Read: Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards.]

What Is a Credit Card Security Code?

The security code is a set of three or four digits on your credit card that you may need to complete online or phone transactions.

This code -- the most common one is called the card verification value, or CVV -- is used to confirm your credit card information when your card is not present, says Jerald Dawkins, chief information security officer at True Digital Security, a cybersecurity company. You also may see the code CVV2, CVC2 or CID on your card, depending on the issuer.

Essentially, these codes were created as another layer of protection against online credit card fraud.

How Can You Find Your Card's Security Code?

Most card networks, such as Visa, Mastercard and Discover, assign each card a unique three-digit security code. The security code will likely be stamped on the back of your credit card, usually to the right side of the signature line.

American Express uses four-digit security codes printed on the front of cards.

Should You Share Your Security Code?

Keep your credit card security code under wraps unless you are sure a legitimate business needs it -- and only if you initiate a transaction. Never reveal the code to anyone who calls or emails you out of the blue and requests the information.

If you're nervous about giving the code over the phone, say, when you order takeout, you could wait until you pick up your food to pay for it, says Robert Livingstone, president of Ideal Cost, which negotiates credit card processing fees.

Essentially, it's up to you to be careful about sharing credit card information. Just because it's called a "security code" doesn't mean you are truly protected from online fraud.

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Being cautious means doing what you should already be doing to protect yourself from credit card fraud. "Ultimately, the cardholder needs to pay attention to their statements, reconciling them weekly online or monthly, and refute unauthorized charges ASAP," says Robert Siciliano, cybersecurity expert with investment group ETFMG and CEO of Safr.Me, a security education resource.

Make sure you confirm the charges on your card statement, and contact any company you don't recognize. If you spot fraudulent charges, report them to your credit card issuer right away, and ask for a new card.

Livingstone also suggests using a credit or charge card instead of a debit card if you are worried about security. You'll have a much easier time disputing fraudulent charges on your credit card than on your debit card.

The bottom line? Your credit card security codes may give you a false sense of security. What matters is diligently tracking all activity on your credit card and reporting any suspicious charges to your issuer as soon as you spot them.

[Read: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards.]

Can Someone Use Your Credit Card Without the Security Code?

In some cases, simply having your security code is not sufficient for a scammer to use your card illegally. In a brick-and-mortar store, a con artist needs not only your credit card number and security code but also your card.

Online transactions are a different story. If thieves have your card number and your code, they can shop online to their heart's content, Dawkins says.

Under consumer protection laws, you generally don't have any liability if you have not lost your card, but someone steals and uses your account number. Of course, having your credit card compromised is still an inconvenience.

How can you better protect your cards online? Be cautious, and do not misplace your trust. Use of your credit card security code over the web or phone is at your discretion and based on "the trust you have in the organization that they will protect the data correctly," Dawkins says.

Updated on Oct. 21, 2019: This story was originally published on an earlier date and has been updated with new information.



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