When you use a credit card for a purchase, it's common for cashiers to ask for your ID to verify that you're the cardholder. They're trying to reduce the risk of credit card fraud by matching the information on your ID with the information on your credit card and by matching the picture on your ID with your face.
Merchants suffer substantial losses when thieves make fraudulent credit card purchases. By checking IDs, merchants are simply trying to avoid losing money and protect their customers. In many cases, though, they aren't aware of credit card company policies about this issue.
Card Processing Network Policies
In most instances, merchants are not allowed to require an ID for credit card purchases. They can ask for your ID, but they cannot refuse to accept your credit card if you don't show your ID, as long as your credit card is signed. Here's what each of the major processing networks says about ID requirements.
Merchants can ask for an ID, but cannot require it as a condition of purchase if the credit card is signed. However, if the credit card is not signed, the merchant can ask you to show a government-issued ID and sign your credit card on the spot or provide a different signed card.
In most cases, merchants can request but may not require an ID to complete the transaction. For most transactions, you must present a signed credit card for verification (or enter your PIN if it's a debit card).
In order to verify your signature, merchants can ask for your ID if you present an unsigned card.
Merchants can request an ID if they believe the credit card isn't valid. For unsigned credit cards, the merchant must request two forms of ID, one of which must be a government-issued photo ID. Upon verification of the customer's identity, the merchant must have them sign their card.
Credit cards are not legally valid unless signed by the card owner. If you want to avoid being asked to show your ID, make sure you sign your cards.
Why You Don't Want to Show Your ID
While merchants may ask for ID to prevent credit card fraud, your personal information is at risk when you show your ID. Remember that your name, address, driver's license number, and sometimes Social Security number are all printed on your driver's license. This is just the information a dishonest cashier needs to steal your identity. Many credit card fraudsters can succeed in stealing your identity with just your ZIP code and credit card number.
When a Merchant Refuses to Accept Your Card
While major processing networks have outlined their rules regarding ID requirements with credit card purchases, many cashiers aren't aware of these rules and will refuse to accept your credit card without seeing your ID. Their managers often incorrectly train them to ask for ID with purchases.
Unfortunately, attempting to force an employee to honor the merchant-credit card agreement at the time of purchase is a losing battle. There are several stories about employees who have refused credit cards because the customer wouldn't show ID. Store managers typically back up their employees. If you plan on refusing to show your ID, make sure the back of your credit card is signed.
Sometimes, though, when the stories reach national media, the higher-ups side with the customer and promise to retrain their employees not to require ID unless the law mandates it, for example, with tobacco and alcohol purchases. If a merchant refuses to honor your credit card because you won't show your ID, you can typically report them by calling the number on the back of your card, calling the card network (Visa, Discover, Mastercard, or American Express), or visiting the network website.