What Is a Card Validation Code?

Card Validation Codes Explained in Less Than 5 Minutes

A woman looks at her credit card.
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A validation code, also referred to as a “card verification code,” is a three- or four-digit number printed on the front or back of a credit card that’s designed to protect cardholders from potential credit card fraud or misuse.

While you might not give much thought to validation codes, they serve an important purpose when using your card to make payments or purchases online. It helps to understand what these numbers mean and when or why you might be asked to share them.  

Definition and Examples of Validation Code

A card validation code is a three- or four-digit number that appears on the front or back of a credit card. This code is designed to enhance your card's security features and help to prevent card-not-present fraud. Card-not-present fraud occurs when someone attempts to process a transaction online using the card account number and expiration date but doesn't physically possess the card.

  • Alternate name: Card verification number, card security code, card verification value
  • Acronym: CVV, CVV2, CVC, CVC2, CID, CSC

A good example of how a verification code works is when you’re asked to enter the code when you’re making a purchase online. 

A card validation code is different from a bank identification number (BIN), which is used to identify which bank issued the card. 

How Validation Codes Work

Credit card validation codes act as a security measure to help protect your card information and are generally used for transactions when the physical card is not present. This code is used to identify that the person using the card is in fact the account holder and has access to the card physically. 

Here's an example of how it works. Say you're shopping for shoes online. You find a pair you want to buy at your favorite retailer so you add them to your cart and head to the checkout. After entering your name and address, you enter your card's account number and expiration date. You'll then be prompted to enter your three- or four-digit card validation code. 

If you have a Visa, Mastercard, or Discover card, your validation code is a three-digit number on the back of the card. If you have an American Express card, your CVC is a four-digit number on the front of the card, above your account number. Once you enter your card verification number, you can finish processing the transaction. 

Your card's validation code is linked to your card number and account information. This is how card issuers and payment processors ensure that the person making a purchase is in fact the account holder. Without a valid CVV code, card transactions may be declined. 

Validation codes are not foolproof, as someone may still be able to make fraudulent transactions if they have your account number, expiration date, and CVV. 

Do I Need a Validation Code?

Generally, the answer is yes, you will need a card validation code to make purchases or pay bills online in situations where your card cannot be physically swiped or inserted into a chip reader. If you're unable to provide your card's verification code when prompted by a merchant, the transaction may be declined. 

Now, do you need a validation code when making purchases in a store? Generally, no, since you have the card in your possession to make a purchase at the cash register. Depending on where you're making the purchase, you may be asked for your zip code. At gas stations, for example, you may be asked for both when you use your card to pay at the pump. 

Inserting your card into a chip reader can offer more security protection than simply swiping it, as EMV chips encrypt card data to help prevent fraud.

You don't have to do anything specific to get a validation code. If you open a new credit card account, your card issuer will print the number on the front or back of the card, depending on who your issuer is.

So, to get your validation code you simply need to look on the card to find it. Keep in mind that if you need to make a purchase online and don't have the card, you may not be able to finalize the transaction if the merchant specifically requests your validation code. 

Key Takeaways

  • A card validation code or “CVC” is a three- or four-digit number that's designed to help prevent card-not-present fraud.
  • Visa, Mastercard, and Discover use a three-digit validation code, while American Express cards have a four-digit code. 
  • If you're making purchases or paying bills online, you may be asked to provide your card's validation code to process the transaction. 
  • While CVV codes do offer some security protection, it's important to take additional measures to protect your card information.