What Is a Credit Card CVV Number? Where to Find Your Security Code

Susan Shain

Susan Shain | Blog

Nov 14, 2018

You’re buying new shoes online.

Or ordering flowers for your mom over the phone.

And suddenly you’re prompted for your card’s “CVV” or security code.

Huh? What is a credit card CVV number? And where can you find it?

Where Is the Security Code on a Credit Card?

CVV stands for “card verification value,” and it serves as an additional security feature when you’re making “card-not-present” purchases — like over the internet or phone.

It’s also called a card security code (CSC), CVV2, or CVC2, and it appears on both credit cards and debit cards.

Here’s where to find your credit card CVV:

  • The Visa, Mastercard, and Discover security code is three digits long. It appears on the back of your card, to the right of the signature panel. Preceding it, you might see part or all of your credit card account number.
  • The American Express security code (also called a card identification number, or CID) is four digits long. It appears on the front of your card, to the upper right of your account number.

Photo Examples of Credit Card CVV Codes

Below are front and back photos of cards that use the four major card networks, with the security code highlighted in yellow.

Amex security code

Front of card, to the top right of the account number.

Visa security code

Back of card, to the right of the signature box.

Mastercard security code

Back of card, to the right of the signature box.

Discover security code

Back of card, to the right of the signature box.

Your card’s CVV is different from your PIN (personal identification number), which you may have created when you opened your account. With debit cards, you use your PIN when withdrawing cash from an ATM or completing an in-person purchase at a store. With credit cards, you use your PIN when taking a cash advance from an ATM (which we hope you never do!) or, with some cards, you may have to use your PIN to verify in-person transactions at certain checkout terminals.

Why Do Credit Cards Have CVV Codes?

Your CVV acts as a security measure for card-not-present transactions. Since online merchants can’t check your signature, many ask for your CVV code to verify you’re the rightful owner of the credit card.

So, even if a thief steals your credit card account number with a skimmer, he or she will be out of luck at websites that require a CVV for purchases. The CVV is not stored in the magnetic stripe on the back of the card — it’s designed to indicate possession of the card.

CVV codes also help protect you in case of a data breach. That’s because industry regulations prohibit merchants from storing CVV codes. So, while you might save your card number and personal information on a merchant’s website, you usually have to type in your CVV each time you make a purchase.

That said, not all sites require CVV codes. And some sites only ask for your CVV the first time you order items to a particular address — and then assume subsequent transactions are legitimate.

How to Keep Your Credit Card Number Safe

While CVV codes might sound like an excuse to put your feet up, you still need to be vigilant when it comes to your card’s security. Remember that not all merchants ask for CVV codes — and even if they did, scammers could potentially use malware to grab yours during virtual transactions.

To stay safe when online shopping, we recommend the following precautions:

  • Sign up for a password manager: LastPass is a free program that creates and stores strong, unique passwords for each site. Such a simple — yet often overlooked — way to boost your online security.
  • Avoid saving your personal data on retailer websites: Sure, it’s convenient, but dealing with identity theft certainly is not. So take the extra 30 seconds to pull out your credit card every time you make a purchase. (And never save your data on sites that don’t ask for a CVV.)
  • Use “virtual credit cards”: Ask your credit card issuer if it offers virtual credit cards. This feature creates temporary account numbers that mask your true card number, allowing you to easily dispose of the virtual number if it’s compromised.
  • Only shop on secure websites: Before shopping online, make sure the website starts with “https://” — the “s” at the end stands for secure, and means your information will be encrypted.
  • Don’t click links in suspicious emails: One way for phishers to gain your CVV is to send a legit-looking email. It might prompt you to call a phone number or click a link, and then enter your credit card information. Be on the lookout for these emails (common warning signs include misspellings or typos), and only share your information if you’ve contacted a bank or retailer through its published email or number.
  • Monitor your accounts: Check your statements for suspicious activity, and check your credit reports periodically too. If your card is lost or stolen, call your credit card issuer immediately to put a freeze on your account and request a new card.

When Used Wisely, Credit Cards Are a Great Tool

Since credit cards come with more protections than debit cards, we recommend using them for any card-not-present transactions (cough, that Xbox you’ve been eyeing on Amazon, cough).

But, even though the best credit cards have ample security features, they’re not perfect. Do your best to prevent fraud, but remember to check your accounts and statements every now and then.

So stay smart — and shop safe!

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