What are those weird codes you see on forms sometimes?

On several websites, I am asked for a verification code when I’m filling in a form. Sometimes they’re really hard to read and I’m always afraid of getting them wrong. How can I make sure I always get them right?


A friend of mine sent me this question after seeing the form trying to sign up to a live video streaming service; in particular he was worried about getting the code wrong and being refused service by the website. Well, Pete, the codes you are referring to is a type of technology called CAPTCHA which is used to distinguish between humans and automated programs. You tend to find them on forms that want to make sure you’re a real person, for example if you’re sending email to someone else. The code is just some text displayed in a distorted image that’s been mangled in a way that a human can distinguish it but is impossible to read for a computer. The problem is that sometimes they look worse than if they had been written in Tipex on a white ceramic tile, they’re nigh impossible to read. Here’s an example of what one looks like:

captcha

So, what if you can’t make it out? Well, some CAPTCHA forms have a a Refresh button that will generate a new image for you to try and decode. Sometimes this will help generate one that is easier to recognise. Also, sometimes there’s an option for the CAPTCHA to be read out to you. This again, can help you distinguish what is being shown to you.

If all else fails however, don’t worry too much. If you get the code wrong, most of the time, the website will just ask you again to try a different code. Eventually you’ll get it right;)

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