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Guide to Credit Card Security Codes

Credit Card Security Code - What Is It?
Kelly Boyer Sagert
Kelly Boyer SagertUpdated March 15, 2022
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Nowadays, we need access to plenty of account numbers and passwords to securely conduct our financial transactions, and this includes the security code on a credit card. This three- to four-digit number that only appears on your physical card adds an additional layer of security to credit card transactions completed online or over the phone.Read on to learn more about credit card security codes, including where to find them, how to share them safely, and what to do if yours gets stolen.

What’s the Security Code on a Credit Card?

The security code on a credit card is a three- or four-digit code that contains a sequence of numbers that’s unique to your account. Other names for this code include:
  • Card identification number (CID)
  • Card verification code (CVC)
  • Card verification value (CVV)
This number only appears on your physical credit card, unlike your card’s account number, which may appear (in full or in part) on credit card statements and other documents.

Why Is the Credit Card Security Code Important?

As the name of this code indicates, its purpose is to provide a layer of security for your credit card account. Because the code is only found on the physical card, your ability to enter it when making a purchase online or over the phone suggests you have the card close at hand.(Note that besides asking for credit card numbers and security codes, merchants will also need your credit card expiration date.)When you share your security code to complete a transaction, the recipient does not store this short code. Why? This prevents hackers from accessing this vital piece of information if they somehow get into merchants’ electronic records that contain your credit card number. This creates a barrier against their ability to illegally use your credit card account for their own purposes.

Where Is the Security Code on a Credit Card?

The answer depends upon the issuer of the credit card. Where the credit card security card appears on a Visa or Mastercard credit card, for example, wouldn’t be the same as for an American Express card. There’s no meaningful difference despite the difference in location, though, so it’s not anything to weigh when choosing a credit card.

Visa & Mastercard

These two types of cards come with a third-digit code that is located on the back of the credit card (the same is true with Discover credit cards). After flipping over the card, look to the right of the signature panel and you should see your security code.

American Express

American Express cards handle security codes differently. Their security codes have four digits. Additionally, the code is located on the front of the card rather than the back. To find it, look at the upper right portion of your card’s front, above your account number

Sharing Your Credit Card Security Code

The goal of the security code is to add more security to your financial transactions conducted with your credit card. As such, many merchants require it to help protect your account, which means that you’ll share your credit card security code with them. If you have a question about the legitimacy of a merchant, you’ll want to proceed with caution. However, there are some steps you can take to better ensure the safety of your transactions when sharing your credit card security code. This includes:
  • Checking a merchant’s URL: With an online merchant, you can check to see if their website URL begins with “https.” Google considers this a secure site. 
  • Using a secure Wi-Fi network: You also may decide to only use your own Wi-Fi system rather than, for example, shopping in public on an unsecured Wi-Fi account. This can also help to ensure your information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
  • Being aware of potential credit card scams: Beware of credit card scams, such as a phishing scam where someone with ill intent sends you an email that looks like it came from your credit card company. They may ask you to verify information, including your credit card number and security code, and then use your account for their own benefit. If you’re ever unsure about an email, contact your credit card company directly (instead of using information found in the suspicious-looking communication).
  • Looking out for potential keylogging: Also be aware of the potential for keylogging. When you’re on an unsecure website (starting with “http” instead of “https”), a hacker could use a keylogging program that captures what you type when you enter your credit card number and security code.
  • Installing antivirus software: Be sure, too, to have a quality antivirus software installed on your computer and keep it up to date. Keylogging applications can also enter your computer through malware.

Stolen Credit Card

Whether your physical card was lost or stolen, or you believe that someone has gained access to your credit card number and security code, you’ll want to take action immediately. Contact your card issuer as soon as you can, and share the specifics of your situation. You can also check to see if you have the ability to put a freeze on the account through the issuer’s app. This can come in handy if there’s a delay in connecting with a service representative at your credit card company for any reason. Also, change your login information where you access your credit card account online.You’ll also want to check to ensure that no one is adding any fraudulent charges to your account. If so, share those with your credit card company. According to the Fair Credit Billing Act, the most you can be liable for with unauthorized charges is $50, and your credit card issuer may agree to waive that amount as well.As an added step, you can request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three main credit agencies at to make sure that the theft of your information has not had a negative affect on your credit. Typically, each person is entitled to one free credit report annually from each of the three agencies. If you spot any issues, inform all three credit reporting agencies.

Getting a New Credit Card

After you’ve reported the problem to your credit card issuer, they will cancel the card and then mail you a new credit card. Keep in mind that the account will remain the same — it’s only the specific card and number that’s changing — so don’t look for any changes even if you have seen credit score improvement since opening the account. Your new card may take a week or two to arrive.In the meantime, make sure to contact anywhere you used your old credit card for automatic payments. Let them know that your old credit card number has been canceled and a new one hasn’t yet arrived. Ask them how they’d like for you to proceed. You may need to make payments in another way if they’re due during this interim.

Credit Card Security Code Alternatives

If you feel like using a credit card with a security code is a hassle, another option is to use a digital wallet instead. This is an electronic way of making financial transactions where your credit or debit card details are safely stored (as a refresher, here’s the difference between credit cards vs debit cards).With a digital wallet, you can quickly make purchases or conduct other financial transactions through your mobile phone or computer. Popular digital wallet options include Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, Samsung Pay, and Venmo.

The Takeaway

A security code on a credit card provides an extra layer of protection against fraud when you make transactions over the phone or online. This is because the number only appears on the physical card, thus indicating that you have the card close at hand. Because this is an important security feature, it’s important to keep your credit card security code safe, though there are steps you can take if your card or information were to get stolen as well as alternatives to explore. If you’re considering getting a new credit card, Lantern by SoFi can help you with your search. We make it easy to compare credit cards so you can find one that aligns with your financial habits.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the security code on a credit card?
Is it CCV or CVV code?
Where is the security code on a credit card?
Photo credit: iStock/Delmaine Donson

About the Author

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Kelly Boyer Sagert is an Emmy Award-nominated writer with decades of professional writing experience. As she was getting her writing career off the ground, she spent several years working at a savings and loan institution, working in the following departments: savings, loans, IRAs, and auditing. She has published thousands of pieces online and in print.
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