Q&A: What is CSC?

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Question: What is CSC and what is it for?

Answer: Being asked "What is CSC?" has confused a lot of consumers, so you're not alone. The CSC is a number and the letters stand for "card security code." Another name for this is "card verification code" (CVC). This code, which is either three numbers or four numbers, is on the front or the back of your credit card. Unlike the account numbers, the CSC numbers are not embossed.

If you have an American Express card, the CSC is a 4-digit number located either before or after the account number on the front of the card. The CSC isn't part of your account number, but it's in that area.

For other credit cards – Visa, MasterCard, and Discover – the CSC is on the back of the card. You'll find it in the signature line and it is a 3-digit number.

What Is the CSC For?

The keyword in "card security code" is "security." When you make a purchase online, you're making a "card not present" transaction. This means you're buying something with your credit card and just keying in the numbers. There's no way the merchant knows if you are the one using the card because it's not an in-person transaction. Someone could have stolen your account numbers and is trying to buy something.

But if the thief doesn't have the physical card, which has the CSC, they can't complete the purchase. So this code protects you against certain types of fraud.

When Is It Safe to Share Your CSC Number?

Make sure you are using a secure website before you key in your account numbers and your CSC numbers. How will you know if it's safe? Look in the address bar and see if the web page URL has an "s" after "http." The address on a secure website should appear like this: "https://..." instead of "http...," which is how a non-secure address begins.

Now, it's also important to note if there's a lock icon at the beginning of the URL. This won't be part of the address, but you'll see it before "https://..." in the address bar.

As long as you're on a secure website, your account information is fairly safe. There's no such thing as total security, but as long as you verify you're using a secure website, you've done your part to protect yourself from fraud while shopping online.

Do Chip-Enabled Credit Cards Have a CSC Number?

You've probably already started receiving your new chip credit cards. These new chip cards still have the CSC number and they are located in the same place. The CSC numbers are still an essential part of security.

This is very important since some experts expect the new chip cards to spur an increase in online fraud. The new chip cards make it difficult to clone a card with your account numbers. So fraudsters will likely move their efforts to online transactions. Thieves take the path of least resistance.

More Ways to Protect Yourself from Fraud

You can further protect yourself by checking your credit card accounts online every few days. This way, you'll be able to catch fraud in the early stages. Most credit cards offer zero liability, but it's still really painful to experience fraud and recover from it.

Also, never reveal your financial information over the phone unless you were the one who initiated contact. And if you get an email asking, "What is your account numbers" and "What is the CSC?," do not respond. This is a scam called "phishing." Your financial institution will never ask for this information via email because it's not a secure way to communicate. These scammers are clever, though, so be on the alert whenever you're asked to hand over sensitive data via email or over the phone.

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