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What Is the Security Code or CVV on a Credit Card?

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Christy Rodriguez
Christy Rodriguez's image

Christy Rodriguez

Travel & Finance Content Contributor

88 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 36U.S. States Visited: 31

After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a cer...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

36 Published Articles 3282 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 47U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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When shopping online or over the phone, you may be confused when asked to provide the card’s CVV, or card verification value. CVV and CSC, or card security code, are both terms used interchangeably, but they are one of the primary security features on your card.

So how does a CVV work, where do you find it, and how does it help protect your credit card from fraudulent transactions? Read on to find out more!

What Is a CVV?

A credit card has a 3- or 4-digit code printed on it (not embossed) that functions as a fraud-prevention measure. Each time you shop without tapping or swiping your card, the CVV is entered alongside your other credit card data and must be confirmed by your card issuer before a transaction is approved.

Hot Tip:

A CVV is not required for purchases made in person.

While CVV is the general term, each issuer uses slightly different terminology. For example, you might also see terms like CVV2 for Visa, CVC2 for MasterCard, and CID or card identification number for American Express.

The algorithm for how card issuers assign certain CVV codes is not known, but this is a good thing! That means your card is less susceptible to fraud, theft, and unauthorized transactions.

What Is the Purpose of a CVV?

According to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI compliance, for short), merchants aren’t allowed to store your CVV as it is considered “sensitive data.” When shopping online, you might store your credit card with merchants to save time in the future. When you do this, you’ll still need to type in your CVV every time you shop, providing an extra layer of security.

This extra step ensures you have the physical card in front of you and that you’re not just using stolen information to place fraudulent transactions. If required by the merchant, there is no way to bypass entering this code. It is required in the same way your credit card number is required.

Bottom Line:

Even if a merchant you have stored your credit card data with has a data breach, your credit card’s CVV will remain safe as they are not allowed to store it.

Note that for merchants who charge customers on a recurring basis, such as subscription services, the CVV code can be used with the initial transaction but is not stored. Future payments will still be authorized, but your CVV is not stored.

Not all merchants ask for a CVV, so this isn’t a fail-safe, but it provides an added protection layer.

Where Do I Find the CVV?

For Visa, Mastercard, and Discover cards, your 3-digit CVV can be found on the back of your credit card, above the signature line. For an American Express card, you can find the 4-digit CVV on the front of the card.

Credit Card CVV Chase Pool
Location of a CVV on a Chase credit card. Image Credit: Christy Rodriguez

If you can’t find your CVV or it is no longer legible, call your card issuer using the number on the back of your card. They should be able to help you find it or issue you a new card.

How Does a CVV Compare to a PIN?

While CVVs and PINs are intended to reduce the opportunity for fraudulent transactions, a PIN, or personal identification number, is generally used for debit card transactions or when using your credit card to get cash from an ATM. A CVV isn’t used to take out cash but is required when a transaction is made without using your physical credit card.

Another difference is that a PIN is chosen by the cardholder, not the card issuer. The card issuer selects a CVV.

What is a Dynamic CVV?

Instead of having a 3- or 4-digit code printed on your credit card, some card issuers may eventually offer the option of periodically getting a new dynamic CVV. There are 2 ways this could work:

  1. When you are ready to complete a transaction, you can request a one-time CVV code and receive it via text or email.
  2. A small screen on your credit card might automatically generate a new code every hour or so.

This is still an emerging idea and isn’t widely available, but look for this technology in the future!

How To Keep Your CVV Safe

Your CVV is essential, and precautions should be taken to keep it safe — just like your credit card number. While retailers can’t store your CVV, there are different ways that someone could attempt to gather this information. Always be cautious when providing your CVV.

  • Don’t share photos of your credit card online.
  • Don’t send your CVV via email, text, or other unsecured channels.
  • Only enter your CVV on sites you trust (look for “https” or a security padlock symbol).
  • Only provide credit card information when you’re on a secured internet connection.

Final Thoughts

Your card issuer sets the CVV, which is a 3- or 4-digit code on your credit card. The CVV is one of the card’s primary security features, and it helps ensure that you possess the physical credit card when you make online purchases.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does CVV stand for?

CVV stands for card verification value. This is a 3- or 4-digit code on your credit card used when you place an order online or by phone to confirm the card is in your possession.

Where is CVV number on credit card?

For most cards, the CVV is a 3-digit code on the back of your card, above the signature line. For American Express cards, the CVV is a 4-digit code on your card’s front.

Can someone use my credit card with just the number and CVV?

Not all merchants require a CVV code, but all will require the cardholder’s name, card number, and expiration date. Most merchants also require a CVV code when purchasing online or over the phone. A CVV is not required for purchases made in person.

What is the universal CVV code?

No, there is no universal CVV code. Each CVV is unique and provides an added layer of security for online and phone purchases.

Is the CVV always 3 digits?

For Visa, Mastercard, and Discover cards, the CVV is 3 digits. For American Express cards, the CVV is 4 digits.

Where is the CVV on an american express card?

The CVV for American Express cards is a 4-digit code located on the front of the card. The CVV is printed (vs. embossed) on the card.

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About Christy Rodriguez

After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a certified CPA.

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