USPS feel-good policy does not protect us from identity thieves

credit_card.gifFROM JASON’S LOCAL POST OFFICE — The United States Post Office is making it easier for identity thieves to steal from you, and they’re bragging about it.

I’ve had a running squabble with the clerks at my local post office for months over payment methods. When using a credit card to pay for stamps or shipping, they always insist that I sign the back of the card — a move that makes me vulnerable.

I tried to make my case to the mail clerk again today as I tried to ship Christmas presents to New York, but she would have none of my “nonsense” and forgot all about that mythical “customer service” stuff private businesses seem to like.

As I approached the teller’s window, two big paper signs were plastered on either side saying, “Protect Yourself! You Must Sign Your Card!” I rolled my eyes and braced to slam cold hard logic against a wall of bureaucratic indifference.

Mastercard, Visa, American Express — they all urge customers to sign the backs of their cards immediately upon receipt as a fraud prevention measure. Even the Federal Trade Commission buys into this nonsensical policy. The problem is that tellers are supposed to check the signature against your receipt signature (or failing that, against your driver’s license) in order to make sure the purchase is valid.

That might work well, except that merchants don’t check. There is one store in a 30-mile radius that has checked my signature in the past five years: Half Price Books. They check every time, although I never spend more than $15 there at once — and Mastercard says purchases under $25 don’t require my signature anyway.

Allegedly, according to the Big Three credit card companies, sellers are supposed to check the signatures on every purchase over $25 before every transaction is completed. They’re even supposed to reject customers with unsigned cards.

Look how well that’s working.

When the back of the card is not signed, sellers don’t turn down my business. Instead, they do the smart thing, the thing that the Post Office in its infinite red tape can’t bring itself to do — they ask for a picture ID to make sure that the me using the card is the same me that is named on the card. In practice, lots of stores successfully do that, even if they don’t check the signature.

That makes me safer. It keeps people who aren’t me from using my card. That makes sense, right?

What doesn’t make sense is this wacky feel-goodery that the Post Office tries to pull. During my trip today, the teller told me the card had to be signed in order to be “safe.” So I signed the card in front of her, using a a pencil. She did not check the name against either the receipt or my driver’s license. She let Donald Duck use my card, according to the name I signed.

And as soon as she swiped the card, I slowly and deliberately erased the signature again while she watched.

It’s a perfect example of how government rules are there for the sake of it, and not for my protection or convenience. Token security doesn’t help me in the slightest.

The story gets better.

When I got home, I plopped down in front of my computer, logged on to, and bought a few CDs for my wife as stocking-stuffers. Guess what I didn’t need to complete that transaction. Yup, no signature necessary — just 10 digits, a three-digit security code on the back, and the click of a button.

EDIT: After hunting around online a bit, I found I’m not alone in my frustration. But my shenanigans today pale beside this fellow, who went one step above Donald Duck and started signing his receipts with abstract art.

8 Responses to USPS feel-good policy does not protect us from identity thieves

  1. waterispoison says:

    I always write “Ask for ID” for my signature. Sure it won’t help the apathy when it comes to checking cards, but I’ve had plenty of people ask to see my drivers license when I purchase with my cards.

  2. nannykim says:

    love it!!–I just ran into the same thing today!!! My credit card company does not require my signature–I just called them. But here is the funniest thing: the other day the post office ran out of change so they accepted my card even though it wasn’t signed. Today I went to the same clerk and he would not accept it!!!

  3. jispissed says:

    I completely agree with you and have encountered the same crap from one specific clerk at our local post office. Of course he is the only one ever at any post office anywhere that has ever given me grief about this but I guess that is beside the point. I argued with him that AMEX does not require it be signed and that he can check my sig against DL. Oh well personally I think the individual is just being a jerk because he is a government employee who can have some control over someone (some reverse discrimination too). I go there every day and not one other even the POSTMASTER there has ever given me a hard time. It is a stupid policy that does not protect anyone. Thanks for posting on this issue.

  4. REALLY? says:

    I went to the post office today and had the same issue. The post office said its the credit card company’s policy, not usps. She also said VISA, MASTERCARD, AND AMEX made a “special” policy for usps and the use of credit card use? So I called my credit card company then and there and the credit card company said that they can take my credit card with SEE ID on it along with my ID. It’s up to the merchant’s discretion. The manager at my post office still wouldn’t let me use my credit card. I had my credit card stolen 6 months ago and will NEVER sign any credit card ever again. The post office only checks for signatures and not ID’s. Are they slightly retarded? COMMEN SENSE PLEASE. Is anyone working at USPS that can use their head and see this does not make any sense? ANYONE?????

  5. tyler says:

    I’m a USPS Worker,having a hard time with this issue. I enforce the rules that are layed before me.I also agree with,”CID”or”See ID”. If anyone makes a purchase of $25.00 or less,no sig is required,a stolen card can be used at soo many retailers with the same rules, easily charging thousands. Most cards do have writen on them,”not valid unless signed”! But who checks! I Do! I want to protect my customers! I check all cards and Id’s!!

  6. Derek says:

    Just happened to me at La Conner WA (Dec 16th @ 1347). Glad to know that it wasn’t just the clerk being a b#$% at this very small post office.

  7. Derek says:

    Has anybody found where this is in USPS policy? I’ve been searching everywhere (including 39cfr, 39usc & the domestic mail manual) and cannot find it.

  8. ali says:

    I am so glad that I read this and realize that I am not alone. I have never been forced to sign my card at my local post office that I go on average about 3-4 days a week for work, until today, the manager of the store whom I have seen be confrontational with other customers, asked me to sign my card today, said it was postal policy, I told her why would that matter if I am showing you my ID? She replies “Postal Policy” I am baffled that a government agency is asking me to sign my card and become vulnerable to identity theft… but with all of that said, I feel much better now I am not alone in my extreme frustration!!!!!!

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