Tuesday, July 13, 2004


From time to time, I get into the same argument: Retail merchants are not allowed to require identification for a consumer to use a Visa or Mastercard. With all of the recent security-consciousness about identity theft, a lot of merchants have started demanding ID, because it makes people feel like they are being protected.

But they can’t do that.

It’s buried pretty deep, and not commonly known, but Visa and Mastercard policy both prohibit merchants from requiring identification to complete a transaction using their credit cards.

From the Visa FAQ:

Q. Are merchants allowed to ask for identification when using Visa products?
A. While a merchant may ask for identification if fraud is suspected, it is contrary to Visa policy to require the consumer to show identification as a condition of the sale. If a merchant asks for identification and the consumer is unable or unwilling to produce it, the merchant is still obliged to accept the consumer’s Visa card. Consumers who experience refusal of service based on identification may either call their card issuer to report the problem or call 1-800-VISA-911.

From the Mastercard merchant complain form, the list of reportable infractions:

  • In order to make a MasterCard purchase, the merchant/retailer required a minimum or maximum amount.
  • The merchant/retailer is adding a charge for using your MasterCard card.
  • The merchant/retailer required identification.
  • A merchant/retailer displaying the MasterCard decal in their window refused to accept my MasterCard card.

American Express is trickier. My understanding is (and I don’t have documentation to back this up, yet) that, while a merchant may require ID to process a transaction, they may not be more restrictive for Amex than they are for any other credit card they accept. Meaning, if they take Visa/MasterCard, they are obliged to accept American Express without ID as well.

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