PIN Tips - Personal Identification Numbers

These PIN Tips Won't Hurt You

PIN Entry
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Personal identification numbers (PINs) are security features – they’re like passwords that protect your accounts and personal information. PINs, as you might imagine, are made only from numbers: instead of a password with letters, numbers, and symbols, a PIN is just a series of numbers. This makes them ideal for equipment that has a number pad instead of a full keyboard, such as an ATM keypad or your basic phone keypad.

A PIN is usually at least four digits long, but longer PINs are better than shorter ones. For example, the PIN “1234” is easier to guess than the PIN “135249,” and longer PINs are harder to crack due to the miracles of math. Because PINs are supposed to protect you, it’s best to use the longest PIN available.

PINs can be tricky. They’re hard to remember – especially if you use a good one. Even the name is confusing, as PINs are often referred to as PIN numbers (which is of course redundant).  But there are several simple tricks that make it easy to use and remember (or safely store) great PINs.

Writing Down PINs, Reusing PINs

PIN numbers, like passwords, often get written on the very things they are supposed to protect. Some people write their PIN right on the back of their debit or credit card for easy reference. Of course, anybody who has that card can take it to an ATM and drain your account.

Others put a sticky note with PINs or passwords next to their computer. Don’t put a PIN anywhere near the thing it’s supposed to protect.

It’s hard enough to remember one PIN, but you’ve got numerous accounts, and each one needs a PIN. Security experts suggest using different PIN numbers and passwords for different accounts.

That way, if one of them is discovered (through a data breach, ATM skimmer, hacking, or otherwise), only one account can be raided.

However, things get overwhelming when you have numerous accounts. If have to choose between writing down PIN numbers and using the same number for multiple accounts, it's probably best to pick a few PINs and memorize them.

So, how are you supposed to remember those PINs? Use the tricks below to create good PIN numbers (and even store them somewhere that thieves won’t find them).

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 keypad. Have you ever used the "dial-by-name" option to find somebody in a company's phone directory? 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, and so on).

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. You could also use an acronym – a series of letters that means something but isn’t a word found in any dictionary.

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 (thieves can easily find your date of birth and other personal information online – through social media, free databases, and stolen data). For best results, mix up the numbers: use part of a date with part of a different number (your address or shoe size, for example).

The Cell Phone Friend Method

Your mobile phone probably has dozens or hundreds of contacts.

Add another fake contact, and hide your PIN number within that contact's phone number. For example, if your PIN is 1212, you’d add the phone number 555-123-1212 (but use a local-looking phone number – not the fictitious 555 area code). This is the concept of “hiding in plain sight.”

The main drawback to this method is a missing phone or a dead battery. If you lose the phone, you’re out of luck, and it’s not safe to fumble with your phone every time you go to the ATM.

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 an oversimplified example, and you'll have to get more creative for any meaningful security.

The Longer the Better

Again, longer PINs are more secure than shorter ones because the number of possible variations is greater. It's even better if thieves don't know how long your PIN is. For example, iPhones default to a 4 digit PIN, which is a lot better than nothing. But you can switch to a customized PIN, which doesn't show a specific number of spaces: your PIN could be four digits or it could be eight – there's no way to know. This makes it even harder for anybody to find their way in.