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Credit Card CVV Number: How to Find It and What It’s For

December 18, 2014
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
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We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

If you’re making an online purchase, you might have to enter your credit card CVV number (short for card verification value, also known as the CSC, or CVV2). You’ve already typed in your 15- or 16-digit account number, so why do you need to enter three or four more digits? We’ll help you find your CVV, and explain why those numbers are so essential to online credit card security.

Where do I find my credit card’s CVV?

Visa, MasterCard and Discover cards have a three-digit CVV located on the back of the card. Sometimes, you’ll also see the last four digits of your card’s account number (the one on the front of the card) listed along with the three-digit CVV; those four numbers appear before your CVV, don’t count as your CVV, and don’t need to be entered.

American Express cards have a four-digit CVV located on the front of the card, just above and to the right of your account number.

For all four card issuers, the CVV is printed on the card, rather than embossed.

Why do we need CVV numbers, anyway?

At first glance, it’s hard to see how CVV numbers help keep online transactions secure. After all, if your 15- or 16-digit account number doesn’t do the trick, what good will an extra three or four digits do?

It has partly to do with the way your credit card information is stored. Sometimes, a merchant processing a credit card transaction will store your credit card’s information even after the purchase is processed. This is all perfectly legal — for example, you can store your credit card number on so you don’t have to type it in every time you buy on that site. However, if your card number is stored, it has the potential to be hacked (see: Target and Home Depot, among others).

The CVV adds another layer of protection, since the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) prohibits merchants from storing customers’ CVV numbers. That way, even if a database is compromised, the hackers still won’t have the CVV and won’t be able to use the stolen card numbers anywhere that requires the three- or four-digit code.

You might be wondering why sites like, say, Amazon can still process your payments without you entering your card number, even if they don’t store your CVV. Those types of recurring-payment sites tend to ask for your CVV when you first enter the card number, verify the card, and continue to accept that card as valid without storing the CVV.

» MORE: How to read your credit card statement

So, with a CVV, my card’s completely safe, right?

Well, unfortunately, not always. First off, as you’ve probably noticed, not all merchants require you to enter a CVV. A fraudster may be able to get your card account number and use it on those sites, even if he or she doesn’t have the CVV.

Plus, there’s always phishing. A scammer may ask you for your credit number as well as your CVV, or might obtain your credit card account number and use that information to lure you into giving out your CVV. Be sure to keep your personal data and account numbers safe from phishers, and learn to recognize the most common scams.

Image via iStock.