With tough times ahead and money getting harder to come by, it’s not only important that you manage your finances wisely, or find the best savings or investment deals for your money, it’s also essential to take the necessary precautions to keep your identity and finances safe.

These days, it doesn’t even take a computer genius to get away with stealing your financial information. A wily thief with the strength and the determination could just as well do it by mere brute force or cunning methods.

The Personal Identification Number or PIN is one of the easiest targets of fraudsters. This is because the PIN and of course, your ATM card hold the keys to instant cash. Once the card is stolen from you, it is very difficult to stop it from being used, particularly if you are not even aware of it being taken from you in the first place.

The PIN, however, is another matter altogether. If you take pains to safeguard it right from the start, even physical possession of the card would not do the holder any good. And then again, it’s also wise to choose a secure PIN so your bank account won’t be accessed by simple guesswork.

Basically, what makes a good PIN is one that is easy for you to recall but difficult for others, even those you know, to guess. Here are some do’s and don’ts of choosing the right PIN and keeping it safe.

  • Don’t use dates which are personally important to you. Birth dates, your wedding anniversary, or kids’ birth dates are out. Some studies reveal that family members or close friends are common perpetrators of PIN fraud; or anyone who is able to access your personal information can easily pick up these significant dates and use them as first options when trying out your card.
  • Don’t use a series of repeated numbers such as 5555 or 0000, or numbers in sequence such as 1234 or 6789 as they can be easily guessed too.
  • Do select a number that is memorable enough for you to recall but difficult for others to get. For instance, the day you got your favorite dog would hold significance for you but that wouldn’t show up in your records. Alternately, you can also choose a word familiar to you and substitute the letters with the numbers that correspond to it in your telephone. This method is usually used by fast-food delivery chains (e.g. 1-800-188-PIZZA) for easier recall.
  • Do choose a longer PIN if at all possible. PIN numbers and passwords with more than 4 digits are harder to crack. The longer, the better.
  • Do use the cellphone friend strategy – but only if you can memorize it or have a backup record in case your mobile phone gets stolen. The cellphone friend method is when an individual records his PIN number in his mobile phone under a fictitious friend’s name plus some extra numbers.
  • Do change your PIN number regularly. You can cycle through a series of PINs over a period of time.
  • Don’t let anyone else know of your PIN. If for some emergency reason, you ask somebody else to use your ATM on your behalf, be sure to change your PIN as soon as possible.
  • Don’t write down your PIN on documents that you often carry around, on a piece of paper in your wallet, and especially not on your ATM or credit card. That would be all the perpetrator needs to clean your bank account.
  • Do beware of shoulder surfers when using your card in ATMs, gas pumps, or groceries stores. As much as possible, shield the screen and the keypad with your body when you enter your PIN.
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