That's an interesting question. The basic answer is that there's
nothing illegal in a criminal sense about a store owner asking for
additional identification, provided, of course, that the merchant does
so in a nondiscriminatory fashion.
But -- and this is a big but -- asking for ID can violate the contract
that merchants have with the companies that process credit card
information and that authorize transactions. These contracts provide
that the merchant follow certain procedures in accepting credit cards
-- and these procedures either implicitly or explicitly prohibit
asking for additional ID beyond a signature. So if merchants are
asking for ID in addition to a valid signature, they won't get in
trouble with the police or the district attorney, but they can get in
trouble with Visa or MasterCard or one of the card company's
Among those who say you shouldn't provide additional ID if asked is
the Indiana Department of Financial Institutions, Division of Consumer
Credit. I believe you'll find the department's consumer guide
Credit-Card Signature: Usually all the ID Needed
"When you pay for merchandise with a Visa card, MasterCard, or
American Express any store that accepts these cards should accept
yours too, no questions asked. It's part of the deal that merchants
agree to when they become participating members. They must check your
signature and the card - electronically or by telephone - to be sure
it's valid. Once the answer comes up yes, they can to ahead and
charge. They can't ask you for any further identification - not a
license plate number, Social Security number, proof of address, phone
number, or picture ID."
HTML format: http://www.dfi.state.in.us/uccc/credit_card_ID.htm
PDF format: http://www.dfi.state.in.us/conscredit/PDFs/id.pdf
I examined a several merchant agreements to verify this. The one by
Primax Payment Systems (link below) appears to be typical. It doesn't
explicitly prevent a store operator from asking for identification,
but it does require merchants using its services to follow the
prescribed procedures. The procedures state that the store should
compare signatures and the photo (if there's one on the card) with the
person, then swipe the card to get approval. If a merchant asks for
ID, he or she isn't following the procedures. If there's any question
after comparing signatures and the photo, then the store is required
to retain the card and call a special phone number for authorization.
Primax Payment Systems Merchant Agreement
Another agreement I found explicitly prohibits asking for ID:
Cardservice International Merchant Agreement
"Before accepting any Card, Merchant shall:
"...(c) not request or record such personal Cardholder information,
such as home or business telephone number, a home or business address,
drivers license, or other such identification onto the sales draft as
a condition of the sale unless such information is required under
specific circumstances cited in MasterCard or VISA rules and
The only circumstances under which these agreements allow a merchant
to ask for ID is when the card does not have a signature on it.
(Sometimes people write "Ask for ID" in the signature space as a way
of preventing fraud.) In those cases, the merchant is required either
to check ID or to obtain special authorization to accept the card.
So the newspaper didn't have its facts completely right. Asking for
ID is "illegal" only in the sense that it's a breach of contract that
enforceable in court, but not in the sense that it's prohibited by
I hope this satisfies your curiosity.
Google search term: "ask for identification" "credit card"
Clarification of Answer by
03 Oct 2002 12:03 PDT
The first comment below prompted me to look into this some more. The
information I gave you is correct; there appear to be no laws that
prohibit merchants from asking for ID, although the matter is mostly
moot because the credit-card companies don't allow it anyway. But
there are some states, and Pennsylvania is among them, that do
prohibit the merchants from RECORDING personal information such as
license and phone numbers in connection with credit card transactions.
In other words, they legally can ask for the IDs, but they can't
write down the information they get that way.
Here are some more pages, then, that you may find useful:
Merchant Credit Card Abuses
"Merchants may ask you to provide a phone number, home address, or
other personal information on credit card sales slips. This practice
not only violates your privacy, but American Express, MasterCard, and
Visa prohibit requiring it as a condition of sale."
States That Prohibit Recording of Personal Information
Using Credit and Charge Cards
"Several states, including California, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas,
Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon,
Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin, bar merchants from recording
personal information when you use a credit card. Furthermore,
merchants agreements with Visa and MasterCard prohibit them from
requiring a customer to furnish a phone number when paying with Visa
or MasterCard. Nevertheless, many still ask."