credit & debt

More on Showing ID When Paying With a Card

Here's why you should think twice about handing over identification when paying with a credit card -- and what to do if the merchant won't accept your card if you refuse to show ID.

In my last column I wrote that merchants can’t refuse (in most cases) to accept your MasterCard or Visa if you refuse to show them identification. However, many merchants aren’t aware of this. In fact, some stores require sales clerks to ask customers for ID when they pay with a credit card.

So what do you do if your card is rejected because you didn’t want to hand over your driver’s license? “Raise a fuss if it’s something you believe in strongly as a consumer,” says Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer information and advocacy organization. Stephens says that whenever a sales clerk has refused to accept his card because he wouldn’t show ID, he asked to speak to a manager -- and his card was accepted.

He suggests carrying a copy of Visa or MasterCard’s merchant rules with you. Print out page 29 of Visa’s rules for merchants and section 5.6 of MasterCard’s rules. (American Express and Discover don’t have similar rules.) MasterCard even has an online form you can use to report merchants that violate its rules.

In a Kiplinger.com poll, the majority of people who responded said merchants should ask for identification when you pay with a card. And we know some people write “see photo ID” on the back of their cards rather than signing them. There are two problems with this. Technically your card is not valid if it is not signed. And Stephens says there is a privacy risk associated with showing your ID. You’re letting someone you don’t know see your address and birth date.

Plus, you get no additional protection by showing identification, he says. Visa and MasterCard assume liability for unauthorized purchases (your liability is capped at $50). Besides, if someone is intent on using your card fraudulently, he will use a store’s self-service terminal, where he won’t be prompted to show ID.

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