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If you look at the back of your credit card, you’ll see the small print that tells you your credit card isn’t valid unless it’s signed. And that isn’t just a recommendation — card issuers want you to sign it for your protection.

“We think it’s a good practice for customers to sign the back of their cards,” Ashley Tufts, the director of corporate affairs at American Express, said via email. “It’s one fraud prevention method that merchants can employ.”

But what happens if you don’t sign your credit card?

Technically, nothing, other than you may be required to do so before a cashier will complete your transaction.

An Alternative to Your Signature

If you are concerned about having your signature on the back being something a thief could steal and use later, an alternative you may consider is writing “Check ID” in the space where the signature usually goes.

“For those card members who prefer to have their ID checked, we’re also comfortable with them writing “Check ID” [on the back] instead of their signature,” Tufts said. “Some merchants check signatures more than others, but we find matching signatures and/or ID is a modest fraud control in today’s environment where lost and stolen cards are less common.”

Keep in mind, doing this is not a fool-proof way to prevent becoming a victim of fraud, especially in the digital age.

Fraud Looks Different Now

Thanks to technology and the large amounts of consumer-data that stores collect, fraud isn’t limited to stealing the physical card anymore, so the signature isn’t even a factor in those cases.

“Counterfeit and online fraud make up the majority of the fraud we see on our network,” Tufts said. “Matching the signature on the card to the receipt is less applicable in these cases.”

To efficiently combat credit card fraud, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your credit card accounts. Here are three things you can do to monitor these accounts for any signs of trouble.

  1. Review Your Purchases. Looking at your transaction list at least once a week instead of when your monthly credit card statement arrives gives you a better chance of spotting a problem sooner. Daily monitoring is ideal.
  2. Use Technology. Sign up for text or email notifications that alert you any time a transaction is made with your card so you can verify the validity of the purchase.
  3. Check Your Credit. Though it won’t help you spot fraudulent purchases on your credit cards, keeping an eye on your credit scores can alert you to new-account fraud (e.g. when someone opens a credit card in your name). You can get free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com and two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com to monitor your credit profile.

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