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Credit Cards...is what happens on TV real

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I've been curious about this for ages.

Often on American TV/movies someone uses another's credit card (often without permission). In Australia you can only use a credit card if you know the personal identification number (PIN) or you sign a slip of paper that is then checked by the cashier.

Are the rules different in the US? How can someone use another persons credit card without permission?  Or even with it?

In theory to use a credit card they are supposed to look at the signature on the card. In reality they rarely seem to do so.

In the US, PINs are typically only required for debit card purchases.

In the US, you typically have to sign a receipt, but cashiers don't normally check to make sure signatures match. I don't blame them, that little strip of white on the back of the card is WAY too small to actually sign. Also, even if you are able to sign successfully, it just gives a thief a signature sample to copy from. Personally, I write "SEE ID" on the back of mine, so if/when they do look, they know to ask me for proper ID before accepting the card, and I always thank them for it.

There are exceptions to the signed receipt rule, however...
1) If you're buying online, there's nothing to sign. However, you typically have to enter in the name on the card & billing address, which I believe is (or may be) at least partially verified by the card processor - if something doesn't match, your purchase may not go through.
2) If you're paying at an automated system, like a gas pump, or self-scan at the grocery store. I've noticed many of these will now ask for the billing zip code, however.
3) Purchases under a specific dollar limit - I've seen a few grocery stores where, if your purchase is under $25, you don't have to sign for it. I am guessing this is also why I've never been asked to sign a receipt on one of the few occasions when I have used a CC at a fast-food restaurant.

POD to the above.  I was suprised in the UK that a PIN was needed for credit cards.  It actually created some confusion for some clerks when using my US issued credt card that didn't require a PIN.

I've ran across a few stores that always ask for an ID.  However, that is less than 20% of the places I shop. 

The chip+PIN technology for credit cards hasn't been implemented in the US. At least, not consistently. It is not unusual for credit cards to be used by someone else, either with permission or without. That's why it's so important to report your card lost or stolen as soon as you are aware of it.


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