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PIN - Personal Identification Numbers - Tips for Security and Ease

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Personal identification numbers (PINs) are security features. Often referred to as PIN numbers (yes, it's redundant), PINs are important to keeping your money and your information safe. Picking a good PIN number and remembering it is easy if you use a few tricks. If you don't use a system for your PIN numbers, you'll end up writing them down somewhere -- which is unsafe.

Writing Down PIN Numbers

PIN numbers, like passwords, often get written on the very things they are supposed to protect. Some folks write their PIN number on their debit or credit card. Of course, this gives the holder of that card a free pass to your account. If the card is lost or stolen, a dishonest person will appreciate that they have the PIN number conveniently written right on the card. Don't do it.

Multiple PIN Numbers?

Security experts suggest using different PIN numbers and passwords for different accounts. That way, if one PIN number is discovered, only one account can be raided. However, this can get overwhelming if you have numerous accounts. If you face a choice between writing down your PIN numbers or using the same number for multiple accounts, it's probably best to pick a few PINs and remember them.

Remembering PIN Numbers

There are a variety of tricks you can use to remember PIN numbers. Each has it's advantages and disadvantages. The rest of this page highlights a few of the methods you can use along with the pros and cons.

The Word Method

One way to create and remember a PIN number is to create it from a word. Think of the numbers and letters on your telephone. Then think about how you "dial-by-name" in a company's phone system. If you use a word for your PIN number, it will be easier to remember.

For example, the word "word" would be converted to the PIN number 9673 (the W is on the 9, the O is on the 6, etc).

A disadvantage of word PINs is that automated hacking programs can use words from the dictionary in a brute force attack. However, most banking systems will lock you out after a few unsuccessful attempts.

The Date Method

Another way to create and remember a PIN number is to create it from significant dates. For example, if your birthday is November 15th, 1946, you can create a PIN number derived from your birthday. You might use 1115 (for the 11th month -- November -- and 15th day). You might also try 1546.

The disadvantage of this method is that somebody who knows you may be able to guess your PIN number with their knowledge of your personal life. For best results, mix up the numbers: use part of a date with part of your address or phone number, etc.

The Cell Phone Friend Method

Some folks add a fictitious contact to their cellular phone, and the PIN number is hidden within this contact's phone number. Unfortunately you risk losing your data, having a dead battery, or being without your phone.

The Addition Method

Another way to randomize your PIN number is to add numbers to an easily remembered number. For example, you might add 1 to each number of the base PIN number. If you start with "1234", you add 1 to each position and end up with "2345". Of course, this is pretty simple and you'll have to get more creative for any meaningful security.

The Longer the Better

You should use the longest possible PIN number. Due to the miracles of math, there are more possible combinations of numbers in a longer series vs a shorter series. If you're allowed to use more than 4 digits, do so.

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