credit card security code
Photo by Rob King on Unsplash

Some things in life are just easier to ignore, especially when we feel powerless. Take data breaches, identity theft, and credit card theft, for example. While it may seem that there’s little you can do to avoid them, you’re not powerless to prevent these acts. In fact, a few small steps can go a long way to protecting your credit. Let’s start with one of the easiest: Why it’s important to protect your credit card security code.

What Is a Credit Card Security Code

A credit card security code is a three-to-four digit number that can be found on the back of your credit card.

Typically, you’ll be prompted to enter this code when making a purchase online after you already entered in your credit card number and expiration date. This might also be necessary if you’re making a purchase over the phone, fax, or by mail. These situations are called “card-not-present transactions.” In-person transactions don’t require you to enter the security code since the card will be swiped or entered into a chip reader.

The credit card security code was designed to prevent credit card theft. Thieves who’ve gotten hold of your credit card number and expiration date would still need the code in order to complete a purchase. That’s precisely why it’s so important to protect your credit card security code. If you let it get into the wrong hands, you could be in increased danger of fraudulent purchases being made.

FREE Tool: Worried a mistake on your credit report could be bringing your credit score down? Try this.

How to Protect Your Credit Card Security Code

As long as someone doesn’t have your physical credit card (or a copy of the information on the card), then protecting your credit card security code is possible. Even the merchants you shop with online aren’t allowed to store your credit card security code, so the main thing to watch out for is online hackers. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Password protect your phone and computer
  • Follow these tips for setting strong passwords on any accounts that might house your credit card information or other financial information
  • Don’t post photos of your credit card online
  • Don’t make financial transactions or purchases while using public WiFi
  • Consider using a VPN
  • If someone asks you for your credit card information over the phone, don’t give it to them unless you called them directly and you know that they’re a reputable company or service
  • Don’t send out your personal financial information over email or via links that are emailed to you, even if you received an email that looks real (it’s fairly easy for phishing attacks to mimic large brands) — you can always call the company directly or log into their website directly to conduct whatever business you need from there

How Credit Card Issuers are Improving Credit Card Security Codes

As of right now, the onus is on the individual to do what they can to protect their credit card security code. That said, PNC Bank issued a press release last year describing a pilot program that would test out a corporate credit card with an ever-changing security code. The card, powered by a lithium battery, was created to help prevent card-not-present fraud.

While this option is being tested and not yet available to non-business customers, there are other technologies that can help. For example, Apple Pay and Android Pay use something called “tokenization,” a process that works like a virtual account number. That way, you can engage in card-not-present transactions without using your real credit card number.

[Have you fallen victim to fraud or want to make sure you don’t? Read this.]