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Why you don't sign at Wegmans for credit card sales, but you do at Tops

If you shop at Wegmans, you might have noticed signs posted in the store informing you that you no longer have to sign your credit card receipt.

For years, Wegmans hasn't required a signature for transactions under $25 and, more recently, under $50.

But in April, the major credit card companies did away with the requirement to sign for credit card purchases altogether, and Wegmans followed suit.

And it's not just Wegmans that is skipping signatures. Walmart did away with them almost immediately after the credit card companies dropped the requirement. So did Target. Most major retailers have done the same, or at least plan to. Locally, Tops still requires signatures but said it is working to eliminate them soon.

As it turns out, chip cards have cut down on fraud much more effectively than signatures ever did, and the signatures have simply become an unnecessary (and time-consuming) step.

"Eliminating a signature requirement for all credit card transactions is one more way we can make checkout faster and more convenient for our customers," said Jo Natale, a Wegmans spokeswoman.

Smaller retailers are approaching with caution. Without the resources the giant big-box chains have at their disposal, they're loath to expose themselves to any more risk than necessary.

Market in the Square doesn't require signatures on purchases under $25, and is considering increasing the threshold to $50, but it's nervous about doing away with them altogether.

"We are still battling with whether or not to require it at all," said Nick Kusmierski, the grocer's business manager. "Trying to work through the ramifications and the dangers, if any, of not requiring signatures."

Crystal Newman, owner of Bloomsbury Lane Toy Shoppe in Lancaster, said she wasn't sure the elimination of signatures was 100 percent safe, either. She hopes to get rid of signatures before the busy holiday shopping season.

Tiny Main Street boutiques don't have the same constant crush of shoppers cranking through the registers as their corporate counterparts do, so it's easy to see why they might just keep asking for signatures, just in case.

But merchants needn't worry, credit card companies say.

Chip cards have cut counterfeit card fraud occurrences by 66 percent over the past two years, according to Visa. But even before chip cards came around, signatures weren't much more than an obsolete holdover from simpler days.

Signing a credit card slip doesn't make a consumer any safer, and skipping the signature doesn't make retailers any more vulnerable.

First of all, who are these forensic handwriting experts moonlighting as cashiers? And have you ever seen one of them even look at your signature, let alone compare it to the one on your card?

When you sign a credit slip, you are merely agreeing to pay for the items you're taking on credit. You're also vowing to abide by the terms and conditions of your credit card agreement – you know, those terms you scrolled through on your computer screen when you applied for your card, then clicked "accept" without reading.

In the old days, fraud investigators would analyze signatures to figure out whether a cardholder was actually present when a purchase was made. In instances of purchase disputes, a store that couldn't produce a signed card slip would be held liable for losses. They would also be held liable if the signatures on a credit clip and a customer's card didn't match.

But now that the credit card companies have waived the signature requirement, not having a signature doesn't put stores at risk, even when fraud does occur.

To make a long story short: A signature doesn't protect you if your credit card or data is stolen, but it does leave the line groaning behind you as you dot your i's and cross your t's.

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