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What is a Credit Card CVV and Where Do You Find It?

A CVV is designed to limit virtual fraud while making a purchase online or over the phone.

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When you make a purchase online or over the phone -- known as a “card-not-present” transaction -- you’re usually required to provide your credit card details, including your expiration date, card number and Card Verification Value, or CVV. 

Though it can be an inconvenience, especially if you don’t have your card on hand, the requirement to provide these extra details offers an additional layer of protection against digital fraud.

What is a CVV number?

A CVV -- Card Verification Value -- is designed to protect cardholders from digital fraud when making card-not-present transactions online or over the phone. A CVV is a unique three- or four-digit code that’s printed on either the front or back of your credit card, depending on the issuer.

Industry standards prohibit merchants from storing your CVV. So when you provide it, it helps verify that the person making the purchase is the actual cardholder. Like a credit card chip helps limit in-person fraud, a CVV mitigates virtual fraud.

Each one of your credit cards has a unique CVV. When your card expires, you’ll be issued a new credit card with a new CVV -- even if your card has the same 13- or 16-digit string of numbers. 

Note that a CVV is also referred to as a Card Identification Number (CIV), Card Validation Code (CVC2), Card Security Code (CSC) or CVV2 (Card Verification Value 2).

What’s the difference between a CVV and CVV2?

There really isn’t any difference between the two terms. Technically speaking, CVV2 and CVV refer to the same thing: The three- or four-digit number provided by your credit card issuer. CVV is an umbrella term that coversall the variations.

There is a CVV1 -- but that’s embedded in the magnetic strip on your card.

Which cards have three-digit CVVs and which have four?

The only issuer that uses a four-digit CVV is American Express. All other issuers use a three-digit code. Here’s a breakdown of CVV terminology and code length by issuer. 

Acronyms by card issuer

Card issuerAcronymCode length
VisaCVV2Three digits
MastercardCVC2Three digits
American ExpressCIDThree digits
DiscoverCVVFour digits
Debit cardCSCThree digits

Where is the CVV number?

CVV location varies by card issuer. Discover, Mastercard and Visa cards position the CVV on the back of your credit card, typically to the right of the signature line. American Express prints its four-digit CVV on the front of the card, typically to the right of its logo.

What’s the difference between a CVV and a PIN?

A PIN -- or Personal Identification Number -- is a four-digit code you create yourself when you sign up for an account. It’s used primarily for debit card transactions, though you may be asked for one when requesting a cash advance from a credit card. You can select your own PIN, but a CVV is designated by the credit card issuer.

How to protect your credit card number and CVV

Follow these tips to keep your CVV safe and protect yourself from virtual fraud.

  • Use a Virtual Private Number (VPN). A VPN encrypts the connection between your device and the internet, safeguarding not just your browsing traffic but all the data that comes from your device and goes to the internet. Using a VPN provides protection from your ISP and the websites you visit. 
  • Use antivirus software. The best antivirus software will help protect your computer against malware and cybercriminals.
  • Use a strong password. It might be inconvenient, but a good password manager will keep everything on file and be your first defense against getting hacked. 
  • Only buy from trusted websites. Avoid providing credit card information over the phone and stick with trusted merchants.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

Evan Zimmer has been writing about finance for years. After graduating with a journalism degree from SUNY Oswego, he wrote credit card content for Credit Card Insider (now Money Tips) before moving to ZDNET Finance to cover credit card, banking and blockchain news. He currently works with CNET Money to bring readers the most accurate and up-to-date financial information. Otherwise, you can find him reading, rock climbing, snowboarding and enjoying the outdoors.
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