Does writing "See ID" on your card really work?

Does writing "See ID" on your card really work? »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. - Many people write "See ID" on the back of their credits cards, a simple phrase they hope will protect them from identity theft, but does it work?

KATU News decided to put the method to the test, so we had our producer put the phrase on the back of her husband's credit card and then do some shopping, all with an undercover camera capturing what happened at each store she visited.

We began our day at two popular coffee shops in northeast Portland. Known for their fast service, we were in and out of both locations within minutes, without the baristas ever looking at the name on the card.

At a pharmacy chain across the street, it was even easier because there you do not hand the cashier a card, you swipe it yourself. Also, for purchases under $25, you do not even have to sign a receipt.

Next, we headed to a popular retail discount store where our ticket totaled around $50. We thought charging a higher amount might matter. Again, our producer handled her own transaction - inserting the credit card into a reader without the clerk ever asking to see it.

Business after business, no one questioned a woman using a man's credit card with the words "See ID" written on the back.

At the Tanasbourne Old Navy store in Beaverton, we got our hopes up as we made another $50 purchase. The cashier asked to see our producer's credit card and followed up by asking for identification.

Our producer handed the cashier her driver's license, which has her maiden name, not her married name. The clerk held both cards up side by side and, despite the non-matching information, proceeded with the transaction.

Old Navy is a branch of GAP, Inc. and here was their response:

In all, we got away with buying coffee, pastries, hand cream, books, CDs, a calendar, a purse and clothing, nearly $200 worth of merchandise, using someone else's credit card.

We showed our footage to identity theft expert Chuck Whitlock and he said part of the problem is that when identity theft occurs, the store suffers no loss. As long as the credit card is approved, the merchant gets their money.

Granted, this was hardly a scientific study, but only three out of the 10 businesses we went to refused to make the transaction.

One business that passed the test was Circuit City in Clackamas, where we tried to buy a $100 external hard drive. Once the cashier there asked for our producer's identification, and realized the information did not match, she politely turned us away.

Another business that did the right thing was the Nordstrom store at the Lloyd Center mall. The sales girl there was in the midst of multiple distractions - other customers with questions, a phone ringing - but she still took the time to look at the credit card and ask for identification. When she saw the names did not match, she very tactfully said she could not make the transaction for us. The same thing happened at the Nordstrom store in Clackamas.

Nordstrom's corporate office did not want to comment, but a store employee told KATU News that combating identity theft is covered in the employee training handbook as part of customer service.

So what is the lesson in all of this? The convenience of using credit cards comes at a price and unless store policies change, you are largely on your own when it comes to protecting your identity.

Some stores even have policies forbidding their clerks from asking to see someone's identification because they do not want a rogue employee gathering too much information about their customers.

Starting Jan. 1, the Oregon Identity Theft Protection Act will require companies to put in ironclad protections for personal information that will also impose stiff penalties for security breaches.