Data security and fraud protection are two of the most important elements in payments. Card brands, banks, consumers and businesses all concern themselves with preventing crime and ensuring that cardholders are the only ones who can actually use their cards for every transaction. 

Cardholder verification methods are often forgotten in this conversation. Where merchants wonder whether their POS is adequately secure and consumers hope they haven't leaked any private information, CVMs add one last barrier to keep fraudsters at bay. 

Not all CVMs are equal; some aren't as effective as others. Signatures, PINs and biometrics are among the most common, so examining them would provide clarity into how well payment data is protected.

Signatures

Signatures are often the simplest way to verify someone's identity. Ideally, a customer would sign a receipt or touchscreen, the employee would match it to the one on the card and the transaction would be complete. In most cases, that sequence of events rarely takes place. Many cashiers simply don't check signatures, assuming that both match without so much as a glance. In these instances, the CVM is negated by the human element. 

Forgery is also an issue, as noted by the U.S. News & World Report. Even when employees do compare signatures, it could be difficult for them to tell the difference between the genuine article and a criminal's replica. Overall, this CVM might not provide enough security for anyone, even when EMV is used. 

PINs

PINs are largely considered the more secure CVM, so much so that the federal government has come down in favor of it twice. According to ZDNet, the FBI issued a notice for merchants to use PINs with EMV and President Barack Obama signed an executive order for chip and PIN to be required for all government credit cards and public-facing POS terminals. 

Given that PINs are unique and known only to cardholders (assuming the information hasn't been shared), it's clear that the federal government's stance is intended to improve security. While hackers and criminals can obtain PINs, the likelihood of doing so is minimal compared to that of successful signature fraud. 

Biometrics

As a CVM, biometrics are largely used for mobile payments, which makes sense. Many contemporary smartphones feature NFC and fingerprint readers so that users can pay just by touching phones to terminals. Because a fingerprint can't be replicated without technology or trickery used in fiction, it's a secure, convenient way for businesses and consumers to prevent fraud. 

More recently, some payments experts and players have started to test whether biometrics could be useful for more than just mobile payments. In late 2015, Visa announced that it would start using biometrics on chip cards at some Absa Bank ATMs in South Africa. The idea is for consumers to verify their identities while the card's chip completes the transaction. Should this pilot prove successful, consumers and businesses might have the most secure CVM available for card purchases. 

The progress of technology is the most important tool in the fight against fraud. New platforms and services are making it safer for businesses to accept cards and for consumers to use them. 

​​PINs, Signatures or Biometrics: What's the Best Verification Method?