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Published December 2, 2022

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

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

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

What does the 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 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.

Some card issuers use different names and acronyms for the credit card verification value code. You may also see this code called:

  • Card Identification Number (CID)
  • Card Validation Code (CVC2)
  • Card Security Code (CSC)
  • Card Verification Value 2 (CVV2)

How to find the CVV number on your credit card

The location of a credit card’s 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.

Your CVV is different from your credit card account number (the long, 13-to-16-digit number on the front of the card). Credit card account numbers identify the credit card issuer, financial institution and account for retailers and payment processors. 

How to find the CVV on a debit card

Many debit cards also have card verification values. Most debit cards have a three-digit CVV, and — like their credit card counterparts — the code can typically be found on the back of the card to the right of the signature line.

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, like when you buy something online or use a credit card authorization form, 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. Because even if a criminal steals your credit card number, they’d need your CVV to be able to make purchases.

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Is my credit card’s CVV different from my PIN?

Yes, a credit card’s card verification value is different from your personal identification number, or PIN — though both help secure your card from fraud. 

Your credit card PIN is the four-digit number you use to authenticate a purchase when you buy something in person. Your card’s CVV authenticates card-not-present transactions, like when you buy something online. 

The other major difference between CVVs and PINs is that card verification values are automatically generated by the card issuer and can’t be changed. Your PIN is a code you can choose and change as needed.  

5 ways to protect your credit card’s CVV

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.

Safeguard your credit card’s CVV with the following tips:

  1. Monitor your credit card statements. Make a habit of checking your credit card statements to catch fraudulent online purchases. If there’s a transaction you don’t recognize, get in touch with your bank to investigate further.  
  2. Report lost or stolen cards. If you lose, misplace or suspect your credit card was stolen, call your bank to suspend your card’s activity. Some online banking platforms and mobile apps let you disable a lost or stolen card from your computer or mobile device. 
  3. Shop online with trusted merchants. Look for the SSL padlock beside the website URL you want to visit. This padlock indicates that the website has a Secure Sockets Layer certificate, which encrypts sensitive consumer data and helps keep your information secure. 
  4. Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for your CVV. If you receive an unsolicited call or email, never provide your 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. These phishing scams can come in the form of unsolicited phone calls, text messages or emails. 

Install anti-virus software. Firewalls and anti-virus software can protect you from malicious attempts to steal your sensitive data — including your CVV. If you don’t have any in place, consider adding virtual protection to your computer or mobile device to keep your data safe.

Frequently asked questions about CVVs

What does CVV stand for?

CVV stands for card verification value. The code may also be called a card identification number, card validation code, or card security code.

Does a CVV have 3 or 4 digits?

Cards issued by Visa and Mastercard usually have three-digit CVVs. American Express credit cards typically have four-digit CVVs.

About the Authors

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.

Shannon Terrell

Shannon Terrell is a lead writer and spokesperson for NerdWallet, where she writes about a variety of personal finance topics. Previously, she was a writer, editor and video host for financial comparison company, Finder. Shannon has appeared as a financial expert on CP24 and has been quoted in numerous publications, including Yahoo! Finance and Black Enterprise. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and English literature from the University of Toronto Mississauga. She’s also a published author whose work has been featured in academic journals from the University of Toronto. Shannon is based in Brampton, Ontario.

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