From their inception in the 1950s, when Bank of America launched the first modern credit card, to the present day, credit cards have needed to adapt to existing and incipient security concerns by adopting many different features designed to enhance security.
Indeed, the modern credit card incorporates a great deal of security measures, many of them hidden to, or at least not well understood by, the general public.
One of these is the CSC, which stands for Card Security Code. This is a feature of many modern credit and bank cards, and exists in various forms under different names, next to the . However, what exactly is it, and how does it protect the user of the card?
If you want to learn about the CSC and how it works – and how it protects you – then this article is for you!
What is the CSC?
Known by many different names, depending on the card issuer, the CSC is a common and vital security measure in the fight against banking fraud and misuse.
It’s a common request when buying online using a card to have to provide the CSC to the merchant, as well as the long number on the front of your card.
This might seem like a waste of time, but it’s actually a vital security measure! But what exactly is the CSC?
The CSC – or, rather, CSCs – are actually a set of different security codes printed and/or encoded somewhere on your card. It’s typically made of multiple parts, which we’ll discuss further in a bit.
However, the most commonly needed explanation of this for most users is that the CSC is the three digits – or four, depending on your card supplier – that are printed on your card somewhere separate from the main long card number.
These digits are not supposed to be stored by merchants. Indeed, it’s a crucial part of the security system that the merchant doesn’t store them! The only place to find these codes is on the physical card itself – unless you take the massive security risk of writing them down!
What Security Codes Does My Card Have?
Firstly, there is what’s called CVC1 or CVV1, which is a three number code that’s actually encoded into the magnetic stripe of your card. When the stripe on your card is scanned, this number is checked with the card issuer to verify that a valid card is currently with the merchant.
This has a security limitation – as the security code is actually encoded with the rest of the information on the card on the magnetic stripe, an exact duplicate of the card with a copied magnetic stripe will hold this value, and will appear to be a valid card.
However, what we mostly understand to be the CSC is the series of three or 4 numbers printed as a security feature on your card. These aren’t part of the main long number on your card, and are printed on a separate area – often on the back of the card.
These numbers are often called either CVV2 or CVC2. These are the numbers that you get asked for when buying something online, for example.
Where Can I Find The CSC?
On most cards, you’ll find the CSC printed on the back of the card. It’s not usually embossed, unlike the main number – this helps to distinguish it from that number, and can help the card user with providing the correct information, as it’s easier to tell the two numbers apart because of this.
When these numbers are found on the back of the card, they’re typically printed on the signature strip, next to where you’d sign your card.
However, newer Mastercard and Visa cards in North America now feature this number in an adjacent panel instead, to help prevent the number being made unreadable by a card holder accidentally writing over it.
American Express cards typically have one of their CSC codes, the CID, printed as a four-digit code on the front side of the card instead. You’ll find this number above the main card number.
They also have a code on the back of the card, which is still used for the same security purpose, but is requested by merchants less often.
What Other Names Do The Numbers On The Back Of My Card Have?
The two names mentioned already in this article are CVV and CVC. These stand for Card Verification Value and Card Verification Code, and are used by Visa and Mastercard respectively.
As two of the biggest payment card issuing companies in the world, these are the most commonly used terms for the CSC printed on the card – most of the time, when an online merchant asks for these digits, it’ll be by asking you to enter the CVC or CVV.
American Express calls the number on the front of their card the CID, which stands for Card Identification Code. Amex also uses a number on the back of the card, which they call the CSC.
So, it’s no surprise at all that this can be confusing to people, with so many names for essentially the same thing. Worse still, other card companies across the globe sometimes use even more different names! Discover uses CVD, standing for Card Verification Data.
Other names for these codes include CAV (Card Authentication Value), CVN (Card Validation Number), and SPC (Signature Panel Code).
How Does It Help To Protect Me?
As the code on the back (or front) of your card isn’t stored by any shops or merchants that you conduct transactions with, it’s not possible for complete card data to be accessed, for example if the merchant’s database is breached by hackers.
After all, if it isn’t there, it can’t be accessed!
The code is intended to prove that the person entering it physically has the card in their presence. It not being stored is a vital part of this security measure – as without it, transactions won’t be allowed by the card issuer.
However, as the rule about not storing the card data is one that has to be enforced in a legal framework, the CSC won’t be able to protect you from fraudulent people and websites that do capture and store your CSC for their own nefarious ends.
Larger merchants, such as Amazon, can avoid asking for your CSC every time you purchase from them not because they store it, but because their very size and ubiquity gives them access to payment processors such as Visa and Mastercard that smaller merchants may not have – Amazon is simply a much smaller risk for fraud than smaller merchants.
It has the size, technology, and funding for it to be a much lesser financial risk.
If you’ve ever wondered what those extra numbers on your credit card are all about, then hopefully this article has helped you to understand what they mean, and how they can protect you.
If you’re buying something online, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll be asked for these numbers – and now at least you’ll understand a little more about what their purpose is.
All in all, the security improvement that they provide is probably worth the slight inconvenience of having to turn your card around to retrieve a few more numbers!