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Is it a crime to sign on the back of a payment card you don’t own?

On Behalf of | Nov 15, 2023 | Firm News |

Whether credit or debit cards, payment cards have a strip at the back that allows cardholders to write their signature. Long ago, these signature panels were the only way merchants could authenticate purchases made using the cards.

Thanks to EMV chips and the magnetic strip storing encoded cardholder information, authenticating purchases has become much easier and more reliable, and the signature panels now exist as a holdover. Technically, payment cards can still be used even if there’s no signature on the back. Most merchants nowadays won’t even check the panel for a signature, though some might still require one.

But let’s say you come across another person’s misplaced credit card on the ground. You notice that the card’s signature panel is still unsigned. With the intent to use the card to make purchases of your own, you sign the panel with your own signature.

Not only is using another person’s payment card a crime, but the act of affixing your signature on a card you don’t own is also an offense in Kentucky.

Unauthorized signature offense

According to state law, if a person other than the cardholder signs a credit or debit card with the intent to defraud the card issuer, they are guilty of making an unauthorized signature. This law also applies to any participating party, person, or organization offering money, goods, services or anything of value – vendors and merchants. Whether you’re a customer or a merchant handling another person’s unsigned card, you’re prohibited from signing the back.

A violation of this law is a Class A misdemeanor. A conviction for the offense leads to up to 12 months in jail and $500 in fines.

To summarize, signing on another person’s payment card is a crime. The offense may be a misdemeanor, but if the offender also engages in fraudulent purchases using the same card, their penalties can quickly increase.