For generations, people have been in the habit of penning their signatures when they go to retail stores. Whether it’s for a check, credit card or any other type of payment, signing a quick autograph has always been an easy way to verify your identity.
No longer, though.
According to The New York Times, we’re about to see signatures go extinct for retail shoppers in the United States. Four of the country’s largest payment processors—American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa—have come out and said the signature is no longer a useful way of verifying someone’s identity. Later this month, they all plan to stop requiring signatures to complete transactions.
Signatures were once considered indispensable, but the credit card companies have begun to see them as obsolete. They’re rarely actually used to verify anything, and they’re easy to forge besides.
New York comedian Mark Malkoff demonstrated in a YouTube video that signatures served no purpose by going on a shopping spree and signing a different fake name at each of a dozen stores. At one, he simply wrote “Mr. Fake Name.” His payments were never rejected.
“Fifteen years, a decade ago, they would look at your signature, they would ask for I.D. if it seemed off,” Malkoff told the Times. “Now, no one cares. It’s the most useless, pointless thing.”
This change could have happened a long time ago. “Why now?” is an interesting question. Mastercard told the Times that they wanted to do away with signatures years ago, but they were waiting for the right technology to come along. Now that credit card companies come embedded with computer chips, each transaction has a unique code, which means fraudulent purchases are much harder to pull off.
While getting rid of signatures will merely be optional for retailers moving forward, it’s expected that many will pull the plug quickly. Mark Horwedel, chief executive of the Merchant Advisory Group, told the Times that three-quarters of his group’s members will stop asking for signatures by the end of the year.