POTW: Credit Card Digits

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Note: I began my "Peeve of the Week" just a couple of days ago. Maybe "week" is underestimating just how often these will show up. Ah, well. Nothing to say about the markets, so I'll put this out there until the morning….

Way back in 1992, when I started Prophet, I had to get us set up with a merchant account so that we could process credit cards. We wrote some code to do some basic checking to see if a card being entered was legitimate, and I remember learning that the first digit of a credit card tells you what kind of card it is. Specifically:

3 – American Express
4 – Visa
5 – MasterCard
6 – Discover

In the nearly two decades since then, I've been puzzled as to why almost all interactions with business that include a credit card also insist upon knowing what kind of card it is. Whether it's an (800) phone call, a web site, or a sheet of paper – – they always ask you to state what kind of card it is that you just entered.

First off, I don't see what difference it should make. A credit card is going to get processed irrespective of this knowledge. Having owned a business that processed hundreds of thousands of transactions, I can tell you that not once did we need to tell the computer whether it was a Visa or something else.

Second – – the number tells you already what kind of card it is! It would be like taking a call from a person with a deep voice whose name was Harold Luke Phillips and asking him if he was a man or a woman. AJC notwithstanding, it's usually pretty apparent if one is dealing with a female or male, and when it comes to credit cards, there isn't even room for doubt.

So there you have it, America. The next time a merchant asks you what kind of card it is, feel free to begin shouting loudly and fervently about this secret knowledge. They're wasting your time.