What Is a CVV on a Credit Card?

Woman paying with a credit card online.
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If you’re planning to use your credit card to shop online, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the different features on your credit card, such as the card verification number (CVV). To make online transactions using a credit card, customers typically provide three sets of numbers: the card number, the card expiration date and the CVV. Of the three numbers, credit card users might find the CVV number the least intuitive despite its significant role in fraud prevention.

Keep reading to learn more about how credit cards work and how the CVV helps protect your information.

Where to Find Your Credit Card CVV

You don’t need a special CVV number finder to locate the information you want.

For Discover, Mastercard and Visa cardholders, the CVV is a three-digit code located in the signature box on the back of the credit card. It often follows the card’s account number.

For American Express cardholders, the CVV lookup process is slightly different. The AmEx card identification number — or CVV equivalent — is a four-digit code that can be found above the account number on the front of the credit card.

Watch Out: 20 Mindless Ways You’re Putting Your Identity at Risk Every Day

What Is a CVV Number Used For?

The CVV is a credit card security feature that allows online merchants to verify that you have the physical card in your possession. So, even if identity thieves gain access to your credit card number, they shouldn’t be able to complete any online purchases without the CVV.

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Additionally, in the event of a data security breach at a retailer where you used your card, you don’t need to worry about your CVV number getting compromised. Vendors are prohibited from saving your CVV under the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, though they might retain your credit card number.

Every credit card is equipped with a unique CVV. However, note that the CVV number isn’t synonymous with your personal identification number (PIN).

Be Careful: 7 Ways You Could Accidentally Set Off Your Own Fraud Alert

Limitations to CVV Protection

Online retailers don’t always require the CVV at checkout, so criminals in possession of your credit card number can make purchases more easily in those types of situations. Also, the credit card CVV is powerless against physical theft. If you misplace your physical credit card or someone steals it, the identity thief will have your credit card account number, the card expiration date and the CVV at their disposal.

The CVV number on your credit card helps protect you from fraudulent online charges; however, it’s not an absolute defense.

Credit Card Expiration Dates: 10 Things You Need to Know

Tips for Keeping Your Credit Card Safe

Although the CVV number can help keep your information safe, there are other basic security measures that you can take:

  • Do your online shopping only at established retailer websites with reliable customer service.
  • Make sure to report fraudulent activity and lost cards immediately. If you act quickly, your bank can block the credit card account in question before fraudulent charges occur, plus issue a new card for you.
  • Review your accounts frequently to find any discrepancies in your purchase history.
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If you’re concerned about fraud, learn how to spot a credit card skimmer.

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