What is CVV/CVC, where to find the code and how it protects your payment card

Shopping online is convenient, even if it is not without risks. But there are a number of security measures that protect payment cards. One of these measures is CVV or CVC numbers. What are they, how do they work and where can I find them?

What is a CVV?

CVV stands for Card Verification Value, the English abbreviation for card verification value code. It is a 3- to 4-digit number that is used as an additional security measure to verify transactions without a card present. You will need this number when shopping online, when a PIN is not required for payment and your signature on the card cannot be checked. Both debit and credit cards have CVV codes, which can be found on the front or back of the card.

What is a CVC?

CVC stands for Card Verification Code, or card verification code. It is basically the same as CVV, where only different card vendors use different names. You may also come across names like CVV2, CVC2, CSC (Card Security Code) or CID (Card Identification Number).

Where to find CVV/CVC?

  • Visa, Mastercard and Discover cards have CVV/CVC in the form of 3 digits. The code can be found on the back of the card to the right of the signature panel.
  • TheAmerican Express CID code is four digits. It can be found on the front of the card in the upper right hand corner of your account number.
Airodyssey at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How secure is a CVV number?

You may be wondering how this number actually protects our card. After all, it’s clearly visible on the card, so whoever gets hold of the card can pay with it online. While this is true, there are a number of scams where we could have the card on us at all times, but the attacker could still use the card to pay. This is where CVV/CVC numbers come in:

  • Card skimming – Card skimming is a technique where an attacker copies data from the magnetic stripe of a card, typically without the cardholder knowing. For example, it may involve adding a reader directly to an ATM machine. However, unlike other card information, the CVV/CVC code is not stored in the magnetic stripe. This means that even if someone gets the information from the card’s magnetic stripe, they shouldn’t be able to pay because they still need to enter just one more code when making online payments.
  • Data Leakage – Regulations prohibit merchants from storing your CVV/CVC number. You can save your credit card information for future purchases, but no online store should offer to memorize your CVV or store it without your knowledge. Beware, however, that some online stores may ask you to enter your CVV only once and then treat any future transactions as legitimate.

How to keep your credit card details safe

Verification codes add another layer of security. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your card security seriously. Using a variety of methods, attackers try to lure out these security codes as well, and perhaps needless to say, the damage can be immeasurable.

What should you do to protect your financial information?

  • Learn to spot phishing – Phishing is a type of social engineering that attempts to lure out sensitive information so that the attacker is actually willingly handing it over. In practice, this is most often an email with a malicious attachment that we open, or the email may contain a link that redirects you to a fake website. Remember that if you have received an offer that sounds too good to be true, it is probably a scam.
  • Shop on secure sites – When shopping online, make sure you visit sites that start with HTTPS or HTTP. Look at the URL bar: does it have a padlock symbol? If you see one, it means you’re shopping on an HTTPS site that encrypts data traffic. If the URL is HTTP only, so no S at the end, it’s not necessarily a scam, but it’s an insecure site where the traffic between the site and you is unencrypted. Passwords, payment details and anything else you send to the site can easily be eavesdropped on.
  • Use a prepaid or virtual card – Ask your credit card issuer if they can help you set up a virtual card, or simply get a prepaid card. You can load these cards with a fixed amount before you start shopping. For example, if you lose the card or leak sensitive information, the hacker will only get your virtual/prepaid card information. You will still incur damage, but significantly less than if the attacker had access to your account and all the money in it.
  • Monitor your accounts carefully – Attackers don’t necessarily need to sniff your entire account immediately. Instead, they may skim very small amounts that we may not even notice or deal with. This way, hackers can fly under the radar for years without us noticing that someone has stolen our card information too. We should regularly check account movements and be aware of low payments that are suspicious and that we don’t know we have made.
  • Don’t store your data on e-shops – While it’s convenient, resist the urge to store your card information on e-shops or any other services, whether it’s holiday offer sites, Ulozto or anything else.. We never know how secure these sites are, and how encrypted our data is.

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