What Is a Credit Card Security Code?

Written By
G. Dautovic
Updated
March 02,2022

If you’ve ever purchased an item online, you’ve probably been asked for your card’s security code. But what is a security code, exactly? In this post, we’ll try to answer that question, talk about the difference between a CVV and a PIN, and explain how to find your security code. Let’s get started.

What Is a Security Code on a Credit Card?

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between a security code and a CVV number, we’re here to put your mind at ease: they are exactly the same thing.

A credit card CVV number (Card Verification Value) or CVC (Card Verification Code) is a three- or four-digit number that appears on your credit card and is sometimes referred to as a security code.

The issuer prints the number on the back of the card at random in a way that doesn’t follow any specific pattern. You’ll usually find it to the right of the signing strip, though some networks place it on the front.

So what is the security code on a credit card used for? The purpose of CVVs is to reduce criminal card fraud. Financial conduct rules mean that merchants are not allowed to store security code numbers in their databases.

Hence, while hackers are able to find card numbers and expiration dates online, obtaining CVVs is much more difficult. 

When shopping, online merchants (or phone banking services) will often ask for your CVV number to confirm that you have the physical card in your hand. To do this, you’ll need to locate it on the card and enter it into the relevant field.

What Is a Security Code on a Debit Card? 

A security code on a debit card is the same as for a credit card: it’s a three- or four-digit number on the back of the card, sometimes called a CVV, CVC, or CSC (Card Security Code).

It’s used for the same purpose: to protect you against fraud. Again, merchants aren’t allowed to store these numbers in their databases.

What Is the Difference Between a CVV and a PIN?

PIN is an acronym for “personal identification number” introduced around the turn of the century. Banks and card processing companies implemented them as a secure replacement for traditional signatures. 

Most PINs are four digits long, though some issuers require five or even six digits. They are not the same as CVV numbers. Typically, you only use a PIN number when interacting with a merchant’s physical point of sale (POS) or accessing your online banking, while CVV numbers are used in all online transactions. 

Interestingly, your card has two CVV numbers – one written on the back, and one encoded onto its magnetic strip. The one on the magnetic strip was used in the past by physical checkouts to prevent card fraud. 

How to Find Your CVV Code

Finding your CVV is easy. However, the exact placement depends on the card network. 

For American Express, you’ll find a four-digit CVV code on the front of the card, usually on the right-hand side, above the card number. 

For Visa and Mastercard, you’ll find the CVV on the right-hand side of the signature field at the back.

On Discover cards, the CVV is in a similar position. However, it sits to the right of the signature field in a separate box of its own, often with the label “security code” written underneath it. 

How To Keep Your Card Verification Code Secure

Issuers introduced CVV codes to make card transactions more secure. However, just like PINs, they require card owners to keep their CVVs to themselves. 

Here are some tips to help you prevent fraud:

  • Sign up for card usage notifications from your provider so that you get an alert every time a transaction occurs.
  • Keep your CVV code hidden in public. Don’t turn your card upside down when you go to pay for items.
  • Make sure that online shopping sites are secure and encrypted by verifying that there’s a padlock symbol in the top left of your browser’s URL bar.
  • Never enter any credit card information over unsecured or public WiFi networks.
  • Ensure that the sites you visit use the HTTPS prefix, not HTTP, as the latter is less secure.
  • Tell your card issuer immediately if you detect any suspicious activity on your account.
  • Don’t provide the card information to anyone who calls you over the phone.

What Is a Dynamic CVV Code?

CVV codes are essential for Card Not Present (CNP) transactions. However, skilled criminals may still obtain them, even if merchants are forbidden from storing them. 

Because of this, dynamic CVV codes have been gaining popularity in recent years. The idea here is to install a small battery-powered screen on the back of the card that periodically updates the CVV code according to set time intervals.

For CNP transactions, all the card user has to do is flip the card over and enter the CVV displayed at that moment. The bank will then confirm the authenticity of the transaction before approving it. 

Do You Ever Need To Share Your CVV Number in Person?

You’ll seldom have to share your CVV in person. Merchants at events who manually process card payments at outdoor events may ask for it, but that is very rare these days, and you’ll often have other means of verifying your ID and processing your transaction.

Conclusion

In this post, we answered the questions: “What is a security code?” and “What is a CVV code?” We learned that these are both the same thing and essentially refer to a string of numbers used primarily in online transactions to increase their security.

As a general rule of thumb, you should never reveal your CVV unless interacting with a trusted merchant.

FAQ

How do I find my credit card security code?

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For most cards, CVV codes are found either in the signature field or in a box to the right-hand side of it. For American Express cards, it is on the front, to the right of the Amex logo.

Is the card security code the same as CVV?

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Yes. CVV stands for card verification value which is the same as CVC or Card Verification Code.

Why do we need a security code?

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So, what is a security code used for? Security codes are essential for protecting you when you purchase items online. Hackers can often obtain card numbers and expiry dates, but they find it much more challenging to get hold of CVV numbers because merchants are forbidden by law to store them, so the only way to know them is to read them from the card.

About author

I have always thought of myself as a writer, but I began my career as a data operator with a large fintech firm. This position proved invaluable for learning how banks and other financial institutions operate. Daily correspondence with banking experts gave me insight into the systems and policies that power the economy. When I got the chance to translate my experience into words, I gladly joined the smart, enthusiastic Fortunly team.

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