The Importance of PIN Numbers

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Credit and debit cards are the ultimate in spending convenience. They make it easy for us to buy online, by phone or by mail. They help us reserve cars, hotel rooms, plane tickets and more. They eliminate the need to carry large amounts of cash. And when we need cash but don’t have it, we can take them to the ATM and withdraw money in a snap.

Credit and debit card issuers institute certain security measures to prevent cards from unauthorized use. One of the most important of these measures is the personal identification number, or PIN. Cardholders are required to select a PIN number when their cards are issued. They must enter this number when withdrawing cash from an ATM. With debit cards, it is also required when making purchases from many merchants.

Keeping our PIN numbers safe is extremely important. If someone steals a credit or debit card, he can’t withdraw cash without the PIN number. But if the thief has that number, he can withdraw or transfer money and check the cardholder’s account balance. With credit cards, you can only be held liable for up to $50 in unauthorized charges. But with a debit card, you may have to pay as much as $500.

Most of us know that it’s unwise to write down our PIN numbers, especially if we carry them with us. So we try to choose numbers that are easy for us to remember. Unfortunately, numbers that are easy to remember are also easy for a criminal to guess. Here are some numbers that are often used as PIN numbers, but are not the best choices:

* Birthdays (our own or those of family members)

* Birth years

* The last four digits of your or a friend or family member’s phone number

* The last four digits of your social security number

* Sequential numbers (such as 1234, 5678, etc.)

* Repeating numbers (1111, 2222, etc.)

* Your house number

Any of these numbers are pretty easy for a thief to guess. In the case of phone numbers and social security numbers, someone could find those by stealing your mail or trash. Birthdates are also reasonably easy to find out.

Still, we need a number that is easy for us to remember. If we forget PIN numbers, we usually have to contact our card issuers and have them reset. When you need money right away, that’s the last thing you want to deal with. Here are some tips for choosing a secure PIN number that you won’t forget.

* Use the birthday or birth year of a distant or deceased relative, or of someone famous (unless you’re a well-known fan). In general, birthdates are fairly safe as long as they aren’t those of someone in your household. But the farther removed the person is, the better.

* Think of a major event in your life that is significant to you, but unlikely to be significant to anyone else. A wedding anniversary is pretty obvious, but how about the date you became engaged, or the day you got your learner’s permit?

* Use the last four digits of a phone number you know but no longer call. This could be a phone number you had when you lived somewhere else, that of a former employer or that of a deceased relative.

A PIN number could be the only thing standing between a criminal and your hard-earned money or credit line. Choosing it carefully will give you peace of mind while allowing easy access to funds when you need them.

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