Navigate Up
Sign In
Click to show/hide contact information.


PCI-DSS: Card Present - Security Elements

What to Know
Credit card features and security elements

Each brand of credit card uses a set of unique design features and security elements to help merchants verify a card’s legitimacy. By knowing what to look for on a card, you can avoid inadvertently accepting a counterfeit card or processing a fraudulent transaction.

After you have swiped the card, while waiting for authorization, take a few seconds to look at the card’s basic features and security elements. Checking card features and security elements helps to ensure that the card is valid and has not been altered in any way.

Note:  Check the first digit in the account number. The first digit should always match the designated first digit for the card brand:

American Express – 3

Visa – 4

MasterCard – 5

Discover – 6

Hold onto the card

Note:  Always keep payment cards in your possession during transaction processing. Holding onto the card gives you time to check card features and security elements and to compare the cardholder signature on the card with the signature on the transaction receipt.

What to look for on all cards (using Visa as an example)

Compare the printed and embossed numbers.

A four-digit number is printed below the first four digits of the embossed account number on all valid Visa and MasterCards. These numbers should be identical. If the numbers are not identical or the printed number is missing, the card is not valid and should not be accepted.

Check the embossed account number for evenness and clarity

Look closely at the embossed account number for any signs that the card has been flattened and re-embossed. On valid cards, the numbers will be crisp and even; on altered cards, they may have fuzzy edges, or you may be able to see “ghost images” of the original numbers. The last grouping of numbers is embossed into the hologram. Pay special attention to that area, where ghost images are easiest to spot.

Check the “Good Thru” or “Valid Thru” date

Make sure the date of the transaction is no later than the date on the card. If the transaction date is after the “Good Thru date", the card has expired. In such instances, an authorization request can be called in to your authorization center, or you can ask the customer for a card that is currently valid.


  • Always request an authorization on an expired card.
  • If the Issuer approves the transaction, proceed with the sale.
  • Never accept a transaction that has been declined.
Look for the embossed character

Each credit card company has their own unique character embossed on the front of their cards. Visa cards display a stylized embossed “V” located to the right of the “Good Thru” date on all valid Visa cards. If this character is missing or is not a “flying V”, the card should not be accepted. Master Cards issued before June 1, 2006 have a scripted “MC” in this area, and Discover Cards have a stylized “D” in between the “Member Since” and “Valid Thru” dates.

Note:  MasterCards issued after June 1, 2006 will not have the “MC” Security Character. Cards issued before June 1, 2006 will continue to be valid until their expiration date or June 2010, which ever comes first.


Look at the design hologram

Visa, MasterCard, and Discover all employ a holographic security design on their cards. The key for all holograms is that they should reflect light, appear three-dimensional, and the image in the hologram should appear to move or shift when the card is tilted back and forth. If the image looks flat or doesn’t move, the card may be counterfeit.

On Visa cards, a dove should appear in the hologram and it should seem to “fly” when the card is tilted back and forth. MasterCards have interlocking globes showing the continents with the word “MasterCard” in the background. The Discover card hologram shows a celestial sphere made of interlocking rings and an arrow pointer. The word “DISCOVER” appears in very small letters on the shaft of this arrow. The background of the image consists of a repetitive wave pattern with stars scattered throughout.

Note:  On MasterCards, the hologram may appear on the back of the card.

Look at the signature panel

The signature panel is similar for all card types. It should be white with the brand name of the card written repeatedly at an angle across the length of the panel. For example, Visa card signature panels display the word “VISA” reprinted in a diagonal pattern in blue, or blue and gold. On MasterCards, the word “MasterCard” is repeated at an angle in red, yellow, and blue, while “Discover Network” appears diagonally on the signature panel of Discover Cards.

In addition, the words “Authorized Signature” and “Not Valid Unless Signed” appears either above, below, or beside the signature panel of most credit cards.

Check for any signs of tampering

If someone has tried to erase the signature panel, you may see the word “VOID” where the brand name should be displayed. Other signs of tampering include white tape or correction fluid, or “ghost images,” indicating that a criminal has written over or altered the original signature. An altered signature panel means the card is invalid.

Check the account number and security code

On the back of the card, the account number, followed by a three- or four-digit code, may be printed on the signature panel in inverse italics (leaning left). The 3- or 4-digit code is a security and validation code, also referred to as the Card Verification Value2 (CVV2). The CVV2 is used primarily in Card-Not-Present transactions to verify that the customer is in possession of a valid credit or debit card at the time of the sale.

When something doesn’t look right

If any card security features are missing or look altered, notify your supervisor so that they can decide whether or not it will be necessary to place a Code 10 call to your authorization center.

University of California
UC Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, Ca 95064
©2023 Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.
Site Feedback