woman on the phone and looking at credit card

CVV Number: Defined And Explained

Sarah Li Cain3-Minute Read
August 18, 2021

You’ll typically be asked to provide your credit card’s CVV number whether you make a purchase online or over the phone. The CVV, or card verification value, is a number that’s important when it comes to providing you with extra protection when you make purchases with retailers.

What Is The CVV On A Credit Card?

A CVV is the three- or four-digit number on your credit card that protects users from identity theft when making purchases online or over the phone. It’s similar to a PIN number for a credit card in that it’s an extra layer of protection to verify you’re the owner of the card. However, since it may be easy for a person to pretend to be someone else online, the CVV number provides an additional layer of protection. Plus, the PIN number is for use when you’re physically present at a retailer.

The CVV number is mainly used when you’re making transactions where the retailer can’t physically see the credit card. Retailers will ask for your credit card number and expiration date, plus the CVV number to ensure that you have the physical card. In other words, it’s a form of proof that you’re the legitimate cardholder.

Where Is The CVV Number Located?

The CVV number is typically located on the back of your credit card, depending on the card. In some cases, the CVV may be a four-digit number on the front of your card. They’re usually printed on the card instead of it being embossed with raised lettering – what you’d see for your credit card account number.

Here are some distinct differences between credit card issuers:

  • American Express: Cardholders have a four-digit CVV number that’s located on the front of the card, right above your credit card account number to the right. American Express also refers to this number as the CID, or the card identification number.
  • Discover, Visa and Mastercard: Cards from these issuers will have a three-digit CVV number that’s located on the back of the credit card. You’ll typically find it on the right side of the signature panel, below the magnetic strip. In some cases, you may see the last four digits of your credit card number before by the CVV. It’s not part of your CVV, so don’t provide those additional digits when completing an online or phone purchase.
Credit Card CVV Location

How Do CVV Numbers Work?

A CVV number provides an additional layer of protection against identity theft and to prevent any unauthorized transactions. Retailers will request a CVV number to verify that you have the physical card in your possession and that you’re the rightful cardholder. However, not all retailers will ask for the CVV code, and there’s no current legislation that requires retailers to do so.

While consumers can store their credit card information at online retailers for faster processing, retailers can’t store your CVV number after you authorize one purchase. This is due to credit card compliance standards.

How Does A CVV Number On A Card Protect Against Fraud?

The good news is that if you make recurring purchases from the same retailer, you don’t have to type in your information each time. However, this could mean that hackers can steal stored credit card information, much like what we’ve seen in multiple data breaches over the past few years.

That’s where the CVV number comes in. The CVV number protects you against fraud because retailers can’t save this information due to credit card industry standards. Like mentioned above, retailers can store your credit card information such as your account number and expiration date, but it can’t store your CVV number. That means if hackers compromise a retailer’s database, they won’t be able to use the stolen information with a retailer that requires CVV numbers.

Granted, hackers and thieves may be able to implement some type of malware, or other forms of malicious software, to retrieve your CVV code. It can also happen during a phishing attempt — such as through fake emails attempting to get you to provide your credit card information. There’s also the possibility that someone can physically steal your card and use it. There are several financial institutions that are looking into using CVVs that change, or dynamic CVVs to protect your card from being stolen.

The Bottom Line: Protect Your CVV

Using your credit card online or over the phone means you’ll need to safeguard your information even more. Making sure retailers need your CVV to make a purchase is the first step. While this three- or four-digit number does provide an additional layer of protection, it doesn’t guarantee it. That’s why you need to take extra precautions to protect your sensitive information, such as signing up for identity theft monitoring so that you can be notified right away as soon as there’s an unauthorized attempt to use your card.

All credit cards now have CVVs on them as a measure to help ward off fraudulent purchases made online or by phone. And while a CVV or CID code is harder to access than your card number, it doesn't guarantee protection. They certainly help, but they aren't foolproof, so it's still important to take steps to protect yourself. It's wise to use credit monitoring services so you'll know right away if there's any unauthorized access to your accounts.

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Sarah Li Cain

Sarah Li Cain is a freelance personal finance, credit and real estate writer who works with Fintech startups and Fortune 500 financial services companies to educate consumers through her writing. She’s also a candidate for the Accredited Financial Counselor designation and the host of Beyond The Dollar, where she and her guests have deep and honest conversations on how money affects our well-being.