When I got my new credit card, I was admonished to sign the back right away. This strikes me as a fairly silly security measure — I wonder if that signature also somehow cements an agreement between me and the card issuer. But that’s for another day.

So here I was faced with a slick piece of plastic with a very small area to sign. There are no do-overs. If I choose the wrong pen and it doesn’t work out, that’s too bad. The biggest problem is the space available, however.

When I sign my name, the result cannot in any way be interpreted as a collection of letters, let alone one that spells a meaningful word. It is much more akin to the silly symbol Prince chose to represent himself with, except mine’s a mess. Whenever I sign something I start with every intention of maybe making the signature a little more legible this time, but then something in my cerebellum takes over and my hand begins to jerk spasmodically, working it’s way more or less left-to-right, then whipping around to finish with a flourish, a loop that goes all the way back to the beginning of the signature and slashes through it. This is not the sort of signature that fits on the back of a credit card.

What is it that takes over when I’m signing my name and causes me to create this scribble instead? It’s somewhat different when I sign ‘Jerry’ instead of ‘Gerald’, looser and often in two separable parts — with two big flourishes. Now that I think about it, it’s probably the ‘y’ in ‘Jerry’ that has survived enough to provide a break in the progress of the pen. I do seem to like those grand gestures.

Face with my card-signing task I tested pens and did some practice signatures, trying to write small enough. Finally I was ready, had a soft-tip pen with permanent ink, took a breath and started. Easy, easy… jerk. Once more my reptillian signature-writing brain took over, sending the pen out of the white space to get hung up in the numbers. There is no stopping now, though, and the next jerk brought me up into the designated zone again, somewhat off-course but still on the move. Loop! Twist! and at last the grand finale, which swooped the length of the white strip, rising with a bit of a tail on the end, obscuring the secret code number.

Overall, one of my better efforts.


8 thoughts on “Signatures

  1. I have written ‘request photo ID’ on the back of a credit card. Here, they would refuse the card for lacking a signature. It wouldn’t be about security (though they would say it was unto their deathbeds), it would be about Doing It Right.

  2. Of course, one other thing that happens in the States is that most people don’t even look at the signature on the credit card, or if they do, they do so superficially, to the point that they don’t even notice that the signature says SEE PHOTO ID. They only care that there is something written in the signature space on the card.

    And then there are the people who leave the card unsigned in order to force the clerk to ask for ID — what happens is that the clerk asks the card-holder to sign the card, and then, of course, the signature on the card matches the signature for the purchase. So a stolen card without a signature is essentially a blank check for whoever steals it.

    There is also the variation of a credit card that has a photo of the cardholder on the back along with the signature. That could possibly work if the clerk would only look at the photo. But most of them don’t.

    Something that at least supposedly works is the little touch-screen pad with a special stylus that larger merchants now use to accept the signature. The image of the signature on that touchscreen is forwarded to the computer of the credit card company, and the computer compares that signature to the one the company has on file. If, according to the computer, the signature doesn’t match, the charge is denied.

    In that case, you don’t want to make your signature neat, assuming the signature you provided to the card company in the first place had the same handwriting-out-of-control problem.

  3. I was using “See Photo ID” on mine until I realized that (1)Many clerks do not even look on the back and (2) There are so many places there is no clerk–like at gas stations where all that is necessary is to swipe it. But more and more clerks are asking for photo ID these days. And when I sign a touch pad thingy, my signature looks NOTHING like the one on paper. I often sign for packages while volunteering at CofC. The delivery person now also writes my name down (or enters it on the thingy).

  4. One of my more scintillating duties at work was to read (rhymes with “skim”) the “Terms of Credit Card Acceptance” legalese that came with a new credit-card swipe terminal. Retailers are specifically *not* supposed to ask for ID — it’s a violation of the terms of acceptance. No rationale for this was given.

  5. Leave it to you, Jerry, to turn a single signature into an exciting little story.

    I was nervous there as you were looping and twisting, dude! After all the shenanigans – right around St.Patty’s Day! – with you finances I was scared the new card was going to explode or something!

  6. Well I tried the touch screen deal. It doesn’t stop fraud all. Even when buying a $1200 camera. The salesman knew me, but that’s no excuse. I took my time and drew out a little scene with a sail boat regatta, waves, seagulls and the pier in Santa Barbara. It was rather good work, and it took a couple minutes. The guy didn’t even look at the back of the card, and he looked at the signature when the receipt printed, but he didn’t care.

    Since you don’t always need to sign to get a credit card, the companies don’t even necessarily have your signature on file to begin with. At least most gas pumps around Tempe ask for a zip code to verify the user with the card. Besides, people very rarely sign their signature exactly the same. There are variations from pen weight to surface height, caffeine intake to temperature. The most constant thing about a person’s signature is the amount of time it takes them to sign it. In general, a persons signature will take the same amount of time to sign when they’re 60 as when they’re 20, even though the characteristics may have changed and evolved to look like two completely different people signed.

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