Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sign of the Times

When I sign a signature-capture device to use my credit card at a store, that “signature” ends up being a lot of loops and swirls, nothing like my “regular” signature. It doesn’t even look like writing.

So, what’s the point?

Those electronic signatures are sometimes checked. My husband once signed one, at work, with a smiley face. Well, the disgruntled drug rep ended up coming back to get his “real” signature the next day.

But why is my husband’s real signature, a scrawled line in which no letters can be made out (he’s a doctor, after all), considered any more official than a smiley face?

Working as a bank teller when I was a kid, I would always compare the signature on the receipt or check with the one on the card – because I was told to.

I wasn’t actually taught how to determine whether the same person had written both – because there really isn’t a way. To this day, sales clerks and tellers are given the same vague instruction.

But signatures are not to verify that you are you. They are to verify that you are agreeing to a contract, for example, to pay that bill. That’s why, if you don’t have a signature on the back of your credit card, the store clerk will ask you to sign that and then sign the receipt. If you think they are being dopes, they’re not. The signature on the credit card is required because it shows you have entered into a contract with the credit-card company.

This is why illiterate people can still sign with an X. Interestingly, according to this article, the X’s were originally supposed to be crosses (God was watching you) and sometimes people kissed the X as well, which is why kisses are represented by X’s in writing.

But signatures of any kind might soon be a thing of the past. In Australia, Mastercard and Visa are looking to get rid of signatures entirely.

Meanwhile, my kids’ teachers tell me to “sign” their course expectations, by typing my name into one space on a form (marked “print name”) and then into another space (marked “signature”) and then email it back to them. And my husband and I literally spent hours yesterday signing crap that is never going to see the light of day again, because we were buying a car.

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