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 Amazon.com, 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.