Q&A Video – What is the Credit Card CVV Number and What Does It Mean?

John Ulzheimer

John Ulzheimer | Q&A Videos

Nov 05, 2014 | Updated Feb 17, 2015

The credit card CVV – Card Verification Value – is a 3 or 4-digit number that acts as a fraud-prevention tool for transactions that occur when the card is not present, such as online purchases.  This number can help prevent cards from being used fraudulently, though it doesn’t help for physical, in-store purchases.  Thankfully, the major credit issuing networks have $0 fraud liability policies.  Learn more in our video with credit expert John Ulzheimer.


Hi I’m John Ulzheimer, a credit expert who contributes to Credit Card Insider.com.

Today’s question is this: What is a CVV number and what is the purpose of a CVV number?

So first off let’s define CVV number. On every credit or debit card is a series of digits called the CVV number. CVV number stands for card verification value. CVV numbers are also commonly referred to as CSC numbers, or Card Security Codes.

CVVs are three digits on Visa, MasterCard, and Discover branded credit cards and CVV’s are four digits on American Express branded credit cards. The card is embossed on either the front or the back of a credit card along with the account number.

So, for this particular card, this is a Discover card, let me show you the CVV number. So if you can see right there at the very end of the series of digits on the back of the card you’ll see the number 281. That is the CVV number on this particular card.

The CVV is supposed to be a fraud prevention tool for what’s referred to as card-not-present transactions mostly online transactions where you’re not actually physically standing in a merchant’s store where you can actually hand them a card and they can verify the information on the card and also ask you to provide some sort of ID proving you are the person whose name is on the card and whose signature appears on the back of a card.

And while it is an effective way to protect you from from credit card fraud it is not a fool-proof way to protect you from credit card fraud because the CVV number is only important in card-not-present transactions. So if I were able to get the information from this card off of a magnetic stripe, which includes the account number, then I can actually clone a card and then use it physically in a store, fraudulently, because it’s unlikely that they’re gonna ask me to provide that three-digit CVV number from the back.

These security codes are not new. They’ve been used in the United States for over fifteen years but still credit card fraud is very very problematic. Thankfully we have the protections of the Fair Credit Billing Act, which is the federal law that caps your liability on credit card fraud to no more than fifty dollars. And all four of the major credit card issuing networks, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover, have zero-fraud policies on top of the protections that we enjoy because the Fair Credit Billing act. So really, if someone were to steal this card, and go to a merchant somewhere and charge five hundred dollars of stuff, then my liability would be zero.

So while the CVV is somewhat of an effective way to prevent fraud, I actually enjoy more protections not only because of federal law but because of also the policies of the major credit card issuing networks.

Now, when it comes to these security digits on your card, there are some people who believe that they’re actually going to go away. What you may have heard recently is this movement away from this magnetic stripe type of technology, more so to what’s referred to as Chip-and-PIN, which essentially is a credit card instead of having a number printed on the front of it and then embedded on a magnetic strip on the back of it, there’s actually going to be a microchip inside the card that’s going to contain all the account information, and you’re actually going to have to have a PIN, or personal identification number, that you’re going to have to enter at the point-of-sale transaction in order for the card to be able to be used.

So at that point there really is no need for this three digit number on the back, because the PIN is going to take the place of that number. But that’s still several years away, so the next time you pull a card out of your wallet, look on the front, or look on the back, and see if you can locate your CVV number.

If you have any questions pertaining to credit or any other financial topics, please submit them to Credit Card Insider.com. Thanks for watching, have a great day.

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