Washington, DC - You may have noticed recently that some merchants are not requiring you to sign for chip-enabled credit or debit card purchases, no matter what the amount. That’s because the major card issuers recently announced that signatures will be optional for chip-card purchases at checkout starting this month.

It won’t mean a complete end to the need for signing receipts. It will be up to the merchant to decide when a signature is needed. So, you can still expect to provide your John Hancock when asked and when engaging in some transactions such as renting a car or buying high-end items at stores. And, it is unlikely that many restaurants will put an end to signing for meals lest a diner forget to leave a tip. And, in some cases, local law requires a signature for card purchases.

However, Mark Horwedel, CEO of the Merchant Advisory Group [MAG], whose members account for some three trillion dollars in annual sales, says that 55% of its membership plans “to drop signatures immediately.” Others are still evaluating their options.

Purchases under $25 or $50, in certain cases, have not required buyers to sign card receipts for some time now as the industry prepared to ultimately phase out the need for all purchases. 

“It’s not universal as yet. Some retailers are still asking you to sign your receipt. But the card industry is on track to phase out what many fraud experts believe is a useless practice,” according to Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens.

The experts will tell you that signatures are no guarantee against in person retail fraud. The fact is that many card users have been illegibly scribbling or doodling instead of signing their receipts for almost as long as credit cards have been around. It’s rare, at best, that a signature is challenged at stores and restaurants. 

“As Shakespeare so eloquently put it in Romeo and Juliet, ‘What’s in a name? A rose would still smell as sweet.’ Apparently, signatures are no longer considered proof of identity in the technology-focused 21st Century,” says Weber.

Unfortunately, the chip is not a bulletproof way to prevent fraud, he adds. Online thieves, Weber points out, will still use stolen credit card data to scam retailers in computer-based transactions. 

“The more organized thieves tend to hack into the computer data of big retailers, banks and other such establishments to gather credit card info on a big scale. But, some will go after credit details one on one. Such ‘phishermen’ target individuals. Phishing is the term for crooks who try to lure you into giving up your credit card information via email. But you can avoid being the victim of such crimes,” Weber explains.

For one thing, don’t open email messages from individuals you don’t know and never open a link they might contain, he warns. That goes for any suspicious messages from banks and credit card companies asking you to update your account info; log on to your account directly to see if your information needs updating.

Weber suggests that you also use strong password security in your dealings on the Web. Make up a password that contains at least eight characters including upper and lower case letters and numbers. There are some who use passwords that are so easy to crack that it would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous -- such as the word, password, itself, or the number sequence,123456.

Lastly, he advises that you make sure to use the best security software in your computer, systems that are recommended by experts to be able to thwart malicious intrusions that leave you and your computer vulnerable.