When you buy something with a credit or debit card in a retail store or restaurant, you don’t really care about what’s written or embossed on your credit card, whether that’s the CVV code, the expiration date or the credit card number. You just hand it over or insert it into the terminal, then sign the receipt (or sometimes don’t) and voilà — you’re done.

Using your credit card on the internet or over the phone is a bit different. Generally, you need to know three things to complete the transaction:

  • Your credit card number
  • The expiration date
  • Your CVV code, or security code

When a phone agent, mail catalog company or online checkout asks you for the security code, they are referring to the CVV, or Card Verification Value, code.

Where Can I Find My CVV Code?

What is a CVV Code on a Credit Card?

The CVV code is either the four digits on the front of your American Express card, or the three digits on the back of your card for Visa, MasterCard and Discover that you’ll find after your account number. This number serves as an additional fraud prevention measure for “card not present” transactions, in which the card isn’t physically presented during the sale. Not only do you have to know your card number and expiration date, but you also need to know your CVV code. This proves to the merchant that you are in possession of the credit card you’re trying to use.

The CVV Code Is Not Your PIN

The CVV code has nothing to do with your PIN number. The PIN number allows you to access your credit or debit card account at an ATM machine. Don’t enter your PIN when asked for the CVV code, and don’t enter your CVV when asked for the PIN.

What Is a CSV Code?

It’s just a “rose by any other name.” CSV stands for Card Security Value, and it’s the same thing as CVV — the three- or four-digit unique security number on the front or the back of your card. Different payment systems may have different official names for this number.

Does Every Internet Merchant Require Your CVV Code?

No. Using a CVV code is not mandatory, and it’s up to the merchant whether they want to require it or not. However, most online merchants do require the code, along with your credit card number and expiration date.

Entering the Code is a Small Price to Pay for Better Security

Someone who has cloned your credit card may not be able to use it because they don’t know this three- or four-digit number. This little security helps you avoid credit card fraud and theft, which is ideal in an age of online shopping and digital transactions.

Originally published January 4, 2017

Updated March 22, 2019

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