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Published April 5, 2022

Credit Card CVV: What is a Credit Card Security Code?

A credit card CVV, or card verification value, is a 3-digit or 4-digital security code that appears on your credit card and is used to prevent fraud.

A credit card’s CVV number, or card verification value, is used to confirm that a charge is valid. This tiny three- or four-digit code plays a major role in credit card security.

What does a credit card’s CVV number mean?

When you make a purchase with your credit card by phone or online, you’ll often need to provide your CVV number. Those three (sometimes four) digits — often referred to as a credit card security code — are officially known as a card verification value.

A credit card CVV number is essentially a security code that credit card companies use to prevent fraud. The number itself doesn’t mean anything, but the idea is that only the cardholder would know it.

How to find the CVV number on your credit card

The location of a credit card CVV number depends on the type of credit card.

  • If you have a Visa and Mastercard, the three-digit CVV is on the back of the card, typically to the right of the signature line.
  • If you carry an American Express, the four-digit CVV is on the front of the card, usually just above the card number.

On the left, an American Express credit card with a 4-digital CVV. On the right, a generic credit card, like a Visa or Mastercard, with a 3-digit CVV on the back.

Your CVV is different from your credit card account number ( the long, 13-to-16-digit number on the front of the card). It’s also different from your personal identification number, or PIN — the four-digit number you might use to authenticate a purchase when you buy something in person.

The purpose of CVV numbers

The CVV is a critical anti-fraud tool credit card issuers use to protect against fraudulent credit card purchases.

A CVV is a way to verify that a person making a card-not-present purchase (such as buying something online or over the phone) is actually the cardholder. The idea is that only the legitimate cardholder would know their card’s CVV number and would be able to provide it quickly because they can look at their card.

Entering your credit card CVV number when making a purchase is considered a strong security feature because, in general, merchants aren’t allowed to store your CVV number. That means it’s much harder for hackers to commit credit card fraud. Even if they can steal your credit card number, they’d need your CVV to be able to make purchases.

What to watch out for

Of course, no security measure is foolproof. Despite the strength of the credit card CVV number as a security tool, it’s possible that it could fall into the wrong hands. For example, if your wallet is stolen, the thief would have access to your credit card, including your CVV.

That’s another reason it’s important to monitor your credit card statements to catch fraudulent online purchases. Report a lost or stolen credit card right away and only shop online with trusted merchants.

If you receive an unsolicited call or email, never provide credit card information or give out your CVV number, even if the sender or caller claims to be from your bank. Instead, contact your bank directly to check whether the communication is legitimate. Also, beware of phishing scams that ask you to provide your CVV number to validate a credit card.

About the Author

Sandra MacGregor
Sandra MacGregor

Sandra MacGregor has been writing about personal finance, investing and credit cards for over a decade. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications like the New York Times, the UK Telegraph, the Washington Post, Forbes.com and the Toronto Star. You can follow her on Twitter at @MacgregorWrites.

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