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What legally constitutes a signature? Not a digital signature, just the old-fashioned ink kind. I started thinking about this question after reading the highly amusing Credit Card Prank and Credit Card Prank II, wherein the author tries to answer the question, “How far could I go before they would check my credit card signature?” The answer: very far indeed.

Obviously a lot of people's signatures are illegible. But do they have to reflect an attempt to write one's name? Can you just make up a new signature, say, from a random word? Or a little drawing? Does it have to reflect the precedents you've already set as your signature?

I have a new-ish credit card that I haven't signed yet. And I'm wondering what would happen if I make up a new signature for it. Each time I use it in a store, I'm a little nervous that the clerk will notice the card's lack of a signature and require me to sign it, absurd as it would be for said clerk to compare that signature with the one on my receipt. They do occasionally take the trouble to check, in my experience. It's purely indecision on this issue that has kept me from signing it yet. What to sign.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 8th, 2005 08:00 pm (UTC)
Back when I worked in retail, I learned to check /every/ signature. I haven't worked in retail for quite a few years now, haven't rung a register since Clinton's first term, but that's beside the point.

A signature is best defined as "a mark that you can identify that you made yourself." Most people can tell forgeries of their own signatures, even apart from screwing up their own signatures.

Nobody should accept your card unless it's signed, though most kids being paid $5.50/hr don't care enough to check...

Apr. 8th, 2005 09:33 pm (UTC)
"see id" and quickness
A friend of mine wrote "See ID" on his credit card. Waiters will come back to the take and ask him to present his ID, preferably with photo.

I think it's important that a person be able to reproduce their signature very quickly. I mean given enough time i could duplicate yours. An interesting security mechanism is not just to ask someone to type in their password, but to have them do it in 2 seconds (assuming it's a strong password). And if you really want to get tricky you can analyze the time between keystrokes.

Personally i think handwritten signatures are pointless.

:) Brian


Apr. 8th, 2005 09:52 pm (UTC)
Checking ID
My debit card has been wiped clear of my signature through all the swiping I put it through. I tried signing it with a Sharpie, but it still ended up getting scratched off again. Those who do check signatures simply ask to see my photo ID to verify the names are the same on both cards, so even if the card isn't signed, you should be good to go as long as you're also carrying a driver's license.
Apr. 8th, 2005 11:41 pm (UTC)
The classic "IANAL" here, so here goes:
I think you can look at this from 2 angles: 1) When is a signature legally binding enough? and 2) When is the signature good enough?

For 1, it's up the to retailer. If someone buys something with your credit card at the store and you dispute it, they need to prove that it was indeed you (assuming that you declared your card lost/stolen). If the signature isn't enough to prove it was you, then that's tough for them. They need to take the responsibility to do it. Usually I don't think this is a big deal, because typically there are few disputes and they negotiate with the credit card companies. It's all about our old friend security threat "repudiation". Also, I should mention that, if you claim to not have done it, but did, that's fraud.

For 2, anything is good enough... As long as you agree to pay the charges they're charging you, it doesn't really matter. Anyone could sign your name to anything you actually agree to, and it's irrelevant that it wasn't actually YOU signing. Think about the higher point there: The signature is there to help the vendor prove that you agreed to pay them. If your spouse signs, but you still agree to pay, does it really matter? If you sign "Batman" to the check, but still agree to pay, does that make a difference? It's just risky to the vendor, who is on the hot spot if you dispute it.
Apr. 8th, 2005 11:55 pm (UTC)
I didn't want to spend the time reviewing it, but the beginning of my comment irked me, so I'd like to redo the 2 angles:
1) You can look at it from the vendor viewpoint - when is a signature legally binding enough?
2) You can look at it from a practicality viewpoint - Does it matter how accurate the signature is?

Also, I'd like to say that it's probably a bad idea to mess with the signature on the card, since you'll theoretically need to live with it (unless it's erasable for some reason).
Apr. 9th, 2005 12:09 am (UTC)
"Ask for ID". I learned it from my mom, and have started putting it on all my new cards. This works satisfyingly well. It's a minimal to non-existant extra effort to whip out the drivers license and makes your card that much harder to abuse should it be physically stolen.

Apr. 9th, 2005 09:53 am (UTC)
I have heard (though have not had substantiated) that putting "See ID" on the back of cards or anything other than your real signature is illegal. If you don't mind, I can post to my LJ and link here -- I have a couple of lawyers that read, and they should be able to tell us.

I hate hate hate the electronic signature boxes, and will not knowingly put my signature in one. Knowing what I do about computer security and how much it sucks, why would I want to give up something like that in digital form? (I have been fooled by places that make you sign your receipt on a special pad, though, and then hand you the receipt. They've got your sig from a machine under the pad. Infuriating. Sears does this.)
Apr. 9th, 2005 02:11 pm (UTC)
I never sign my cards, and yet it's still rare that someone asks for my ID. A couple of times clerks have told me I should sign it, but they've never refused to sell me anything because I wouldn't.

There was one woman I knew who put a little heart at the end of her signature, so I think little drawings are ok. But on the flip side, when I was in High School I went by "Beth" and signed everything as a legible "Beth" and the bank got confused because the name on the account was "Elizabeth" *shrugs*
Apr. 11th, 2005 12:59 pm (UTC)
See ID and "names"
I always put Please see ID on my cards, but don't try to use them at the Post Office - they won't take unsigned cards - unfortunately, I've been able to convince them that "please see ID" is my signature, so it depends on which PO you go to. The PO and a few restaurants check, but not too many others. I make it a point to thank the retailer for checking for my ID when they ask.

As for "non-name" signatures, I have a friend who signs her name "X____" - yes, X with a line under it. She's from India, and I don't know if that has anything to do with it, but it's accepted.
Apr. 21st, 2005 04:33 pm (UTC)
pwinkler, Interesting comments above.

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