Protecting the Power of Your Signature

There are few things more important than a person’s signature. The signature indicates consent, confirms identity, and–if you are a celebrity–adds tremendous value to physical objects. It is incredibly important, then, that you protect it and you keep it safe.

That sounds a little silly–how do you protect your signature? Why do you need to keep safe a thing that, presumably, originates with your own physical movements and is as (so they say) unique as your fingerprint?

Businessman sitting at office desk signing a contract with shallow focus on signature.
Businessman sitting at office desk signing a contract with shallow focus on signature.

The truth is that not every document is going to be signed by taking literal pen to literal paper. In today’s modern culture, many signatures are acquired digitally. This is a great development. It makes processing paperwork much smoother and faster for both companies and the individuals with whom they are doing business. It is especially helpful for people who work remotely and for lower income people whose access to equipment like scanners and fax machines, etc. is limited.

Even if you prefer to sign your documents the “old” way, there are still moments when you enter your signature digitally. When you swipe your credit card at most retailers these days, you use a stylus pen to sign a screen instead of signing a receipt. Mobile payment processors allow you to use your finger as a stylus on a smart phone or tablet’s payment processing screen.

Many merchants try to tell you that, thanks to these transactions and signatures being processed digitally, it reduces the ability of identity thieves to wreak havoc on your personal finances. As points out, however, as the times have changed and advanced so have the methods identity thieves use to grab your information. Many are simply using the other massive amounts of personal information they’ve stolen and choosing to work only with those merchants who allow an electronic signature to be typed in, instead of actually requiring the use of a stylus or finger to literally sign on a dotted line.

Protecting Your Signature

So what do you do? How do you protect your signature and keep forgers at bay, especially in today’s world, when many signatures are acquired digitally?

When you are digitally signing, be wary of the company processing the signature. Wherever possible only sign encrypted forms and/or make sure that you only digitally sign documents sent via companies that guarantee document and transaction tracking. For example, CudaSign, a company that specializes in digital signatures, tracks every detail of someone’s electronic signature including the time, date and even the IP address at which a signature was entered. This reduces the chances of fraudulent signatures and increases the chances should someone attempt to forge a signature, they can be found.

Make your signature really hard to forge. We like to tease people whose signatures are messy and scratchy, but it turns out those people might be on to something. Messy signatures are a lot easier to forge than those that are very neatly signed on a document. Details like uneven ink flow, contradictory slanting, etc–they’re small details that most people don’t notice but are incredibly hard to replicate accurately–something that a forger will need to do if he or she wants the forgery to pass muster.

Stop putting “see ID” on your credit card signature space instead of your actual signature. Today most card swipes are done by the card holder, not the merchant, so whether or not the card is signed doesn’t matter. In the event that a merchant does check the card, many stores aren’t allowed to process cards that lack a signature. The best thing to do is to include both in that space. Sign the card, but include a “check ID” note alongside the signature to cover your bases.

Beyond the Signature

It’s worth noting that, these days, PIN numbers and other codes are often used in place of signatures. Most readers know to shield a keypad with their bodies to prevent prying eyes or hidden ATM cameras from catching their codes. These days, though, all a thief needs is one of those infrared camera apps or cases. They come along after you and use the infrared to see which buttons you pushed and figure out the order in which you pushed them.

To thwart these jerks, Lifehacker offers one simple trick: simply touch more keys than you need to when you’re entering your pin or put your palm across the keypad so that it looks like all the buttons got pushed at the same time.

Technology has helped accomplish some amazing stuff, but it has also made it incredibly easy for identity thieves to take advantage of their victims. Use the tips in this article to help keep others from trying to pretend to be you.