Asking for ID for credit card purchases

Have you ever gone to purchase something with a credit card and been asked for a driver’s license or other ID? I’ve asked one of my hispanic friends and he gets asked for ID quite often when buying something with a credit card. I’ve asked two different caucasion friends, and the one that dresses business casual says he can’t remember ever being asked. The other caucasian friend, that dresses rather clumsily like myself, gets asked for ID when using a credit card to buy a pack of gum.

My mom is an indigenous person of the Americas and celebrates her heritage as a member of the now non-existent Apache tribe. Not only am I copper colored, but I also dress rather like a social misfit. I get asked for ID all the time when making credit card purchases, regardless of the dollar amount. Whether I’m getting racially profiled, I can’t be sure. Unfortunately, when I stand there at the register to see if everyone else gets asked for ID, the store clerks are already tipped off that I’m watching to see if they’re applying their policy to everyone.

GameStop’s corporate policy

Yesterday, my best friend and I went to GameStop, a store that specializes in new and used electronic gaming consoles, games, and accessories. My used Nintendo Wii had come with a Mario Kart game which neither one of us enjoyed. Since the game came with a steering wheel accessory, I figured that we could get a decent amount of credit when we traded it in.

The store ended up offering us $22 worth of credit for the game that we were trading in, it’s steering wheel accessory, and the empty box. There were several new and used games for $19.99 which we could have bought with the credit, but my friend and I noticed that they were having a “buy two get one free” special on the used games. Therefore, we could get one $19.99 game with my credit, or if I shelled out another $19.99, we could get three games. I decided that this was a good opportunity to increase our three game collection to a six game collection for less than $20.

After spending nearly an hour picking out three games, I went to pay for them. After getting asked for my name, street address, and date of birth while everyone standing around could hear, I then got asked for $19.63, and I offered a signed MasterCard check card as payment. Before the store clerk would even swipe my credit card, he asked for my ID.

I asked, as I usually do, “Oh, is it not signed?” The clerk checked to see if my card was signed, and then said that it was but that he needed to see my ID for “security purposes”. I started explaining that it was a violation of Visa and MasterCard regulations to require ID to accept the card as payment, since it was signed. As I’m accustomed to hearing, he spouted that it was store policy and that I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about showing my ID unless it wasn’t my card. Unable to convince him that he was wrong, I told him that I’d be reporting his violation and left to get a twenty dollar bill out of the ATM a few blocks away.

The store clerk was actually happy with that, apparently thinking that he’d just avoided some credit card fraud. In his mind, if I’m unwilling to show my ID, it certainly must not be my credit card. I don’t blame him, however. I blame his management team. I tried to explain that MasterCard and Visa wanted people to be able leave home on an adventure with just a signed credit card for payment, and that allowing stores to ask for ID allowed for racial or other profiling. What the store clerk is supposed to do is compare signatures, and if he had a security concern, he was to do a “code 10 authorization” by calling up MasterCard directly who would then direct him how to proceed.

I ended up paying with cash, and lost out on the benefits of using a MasterCard for payment, such as extended warranty and purchase protection. I told the store clerk that next month when I came in to trade my Zelda game in that he wouldn’t have to ask me for ID. I told him that I’d never reported a store for a merchant violation and came in the next time to find that they were still asking for ID. He said that he’d had complaints from customers for the five years he’d been asking for ID, and that the policy hadn’t changed yet. He obviously didn’t believe me. It’s too bad. I called another GameStop near me, and the clerk I spoke with confirmed that this is GameStop corporate policy. I’ve reported the violation to American Express, Visa, and MasterCard.

What Do the Visa and MasterCard Rules and Regulations Say?

Don’t want to do the research yourself? Please feel free to follow me on twitter and then e-mail me for the password to view the rest of the article.

Here’s what Visa says about requiring ID:

“Although Visa rules do not preclude merchants from asking for cardholder ID, merchants cannot make an ID a condition of acceptance. Therefore, merchants cannot refuse to complete a purchase transaction because a cardholder refuses to provide ID. Visa believes merchants should not ask for ID as part of their regular card acceptance procedures.”

From page 31 of their Card Acceptance Guide.

Here’s what MasterCard says about requiring ID:

“A Merchant must not refuse to complete a Transaction solely because a Cardholder who has complied with conditions for presentment of a Card at the POI refuses to provide additional information, except as specifically permitted or required by the Standards. A Merchant may require additional identification from the Cardholder if the information is required to complete the Transaction, such as for shipping purposes.”

From page 87, Section 5.6.3 of the MasterCard Rules.

The Visa and MasterCard rules and regulations would allow for a retail store to ask for ID if having an account with the store is required to make a purchase, and an ID is required to open an account.

The Visa and MasterCard rules and regulations would allow for a retail store to ask for ID if the card is not signed. In fact, an unsigned card can not be accepted, and the clerk should have you sign the card after providing ID. As a result, people who write “See ID” on their signature panels would really only get that benefit the first time they use the card.

Other common merchant violations and reporting them

In addition to not being able to ask for ID, merchants can not add surcharges for credit card payments, and can not have minimum amount requirements for credit card payments. However, merchants can give a discount to cash customers.

If you encounter a merchant violation, you can report them at the following telephone numbers:

VISA: 800-VISA-911
MasterCard: 800-300-3069

It’s my experience, that shortly after reporting the violation, the store’s bank as well as the store will get a very stern letter threatening the loss of ability to accept credit cards and fines around $2,000 if they don’t correct their policies.

What do you think?

My best friend is white and is all for stores asking him for ID to pay with a credit card. He and I often argue about this, and actually while I was at the store, the two other customers that were there at the time of the argument agreed with the clerk. One of them was paying with a credit card, and offered his ID without even being asked, to prove his point. Although the clerk didn’t even look at it or the picture.

What I’m unable to convince many people, because they think that they know better than MasterCard and Visa, is that stores are not protecting the card holder by asking for ID. The cardholder is already protected from fraudulent charges.

The stores are erroneously trying to protect themselves by inconveniencing their customers by only asking “suspicious” people for their ID, doing some type of social or racial profiling. If the store clerks simply checked that the card had the proper security devices on it, hadn’t been tampered with, was not expired, and that the signatures matched, the store would be guaranteed to be paid. Instead, many stores are relying on their own policies developed by management teams that are not experts in their obligations or on how to prevent credit card fraud.

Let me know what you think. Do you feel safe when store clerks ask you for your ID, or do you feel singled out? Do these store clerks even bother to check the photo or signature on the ID, the hologram on the front of the credit card, or compare the embossed numbers on the credit card with the ones on the magnetic strip?

UPDATES: The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 authorized merchants to charge up to a $10 surcharge for credit card transactions.

Starting January of 2013, Visa and MasterCard have authorized merchants to pass on the credit card fees to their customers.

4 thoughts on “Asking for ID for credit card purchases

  1. Mark,

    You’ve raised an interesting point here and I’ve wrestled with this issue myself since I started Merchant911 back in 2001.

    You are correct in your interpretation of the regulations regarding ID for credit card purchases but personally, I’ve never quite gotten my head around the logic of the regulation. Consider that if it was someone else presenting your card, you’d probably be glad that an ID was asked for and the transaction was refused. It’s true that you wouldn’t be responsible for the fraudulent charge, but there is the hassle involved in clearing it up. I think the regulation is based not on security, but on the number of transactions per minute and the least amount of inconvenience to the cardholder. To put it another way; dollars in the Association’s pocket.

    The “profiling” thing is something of a grey area. I understand your point and I can’t argue that it’s wrong. On the other hand, as a former police officer, I can tell you that it’s something of a fact of life. If a police officer is on patrol in a residential neighborhood that’s predominantly white folks driving Lexus and Caddies and sees a (you name the non-white subject) driving a beat up Chevy, he’s going to get a bit suspicious. Is it profiling or is it good police work? It doesn’t really matter who’s driving – it looks out of place and therefor suspicious. The same can be said for a white guy in a Lexus cruising Harlem. I think, as a former intelligence officer, you’d agree. I don’t see the scenarios that you’ve described as being much different.

    Personally, I’d like to see the regulation about ID go away and require merchants to request ID. It’s not going to happen. In an attempt to make everyone happy and stay within the regulations, I always recommend signing the card AND writing “See ID” on the card. But the sad fact is, how many merchants even look to see if the card is signed, let alone compare the card with the signed slip?

  2. Oh my, I’m a 66 year old white as can be woman in San Diego. Here it seems that stores are only asking for ID when the MC purchase is over $20 or $25… at least of me, but it’s pretty universal, except at the grocery store where I am known. When asked I show my driver’s licence and the clerk usually looks at the pix and at me and tries to decide if we’re really the same person. I guess I pass.

    There might be some protection against fraud by comparing a pix with me I suppose. I don’t feel singled out and now that you brought this to my attention I’m going to start paying attention to what’s happening with folks of other colors.

    I do know that one of the more powerful questions I’ve ever been asked is: What’s it like to be white?

    Geeze what’s that’s revealed to me.

  3. Several years ago I worked at an auto parts store and it was company policy that we request an ID for credit card purchases.

    One day we had a customer that was refusing to provide his driver’s license and the cashier asked me (the assistant manager) what to do. My response was quite simple. The employer requires an ID for credit card purchases. If he will not provide the ID then refuse the credit card.

    The customer responded with, “you can’t do that!”. Oh yes I can I replied. It is company policy that we check ID to insure that the person using the credit card does in fact own and therefore have a right to use said credit card. Besides, it’s for your protection. If someone comes in trying to use your credit card, they will not be able to because we won’t accept it.

    By the way. Unless those so called regulations are written in law, they are not regulations. They may be rules that the Credit Card companies have, but they are not regulations.

    Speaking of such. Those rules may constitute an unlawful act of any person accepting a stolen credit card being in collusion with the thief. It’s called “accessory after the fact” you have received stolen property.

    Another point you miss. Many people, even after reporting that their credit card has been stolen within minutes of it being stolen, have been held liable by the credit card companies. I’m not talking a couple hundred dollars which is unacceptable standing on principle, I’m talking about thousands of dollars that were charged to the card that the company could have prevented by freezing the card as soon as the card holder called it in.

    Final point: After the financial collapse that was caused by the crooked financial institutions of America; are you sure you want to trust the credit card companies policies?

    I don’t.

  4. I am a 42 year old white woman and have been asked for id for a purchase from $20 to $400 and then again sometimes not. HOWEVER, In September of this year I was a victim of a brutal home invasion and robbery in which two males broke into my apartment at 4:00 a.m. in the morning. Beat me savagely stole my wallet with credit cards. They proceded to head to a 24 hour walmart and purchase a television at 5:00 a.m. in the morning. The woman completed the purchase without so much as questioning the validity of two males presenting a card for purchase at such an odd hour with obviously a females credit card. thaks to her there are STILL two violent thugs robbing and beating people with no consequences.

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