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2007-08-02 00:53:11

Further investigation on credit card deals: understand credit card numbers

Have you ever wondered of the meaning of your credit card number? Apart from cardholder's name, issuer's logo and expiry date, it has certain amount of random numbers (13-19 digits). Well, turns out to be that these digits weren't taken out of nowhere. Not only does your credit card number identifies your account, but it also categorizes industries, issuers and accounts themselves.

No matter what credit card deals you have signed up for, you will get more or less the same type of card as everyone else. Every credit card contains unique number that helps customers, merchants and issuers to identify it among others.

The whole number consists of four parts: the major industry identifier, a six-digit card issuer identifier, an account number and a checksum digit. However, certain credit card companies may also have a group of numbers that further categorizes the card. For example, American Express card's number contains 2 digits that represent currency of the cardholder's origin.

Credit card industry has a standardized scheme for assigning credit card numbers that helps all the issuers identify themselves within the industry. The first digit on your card represents the type of your card. It can either be 3, 4, 5 or 6. A 3 means it's a travel and entertainment card such as Diners Club and American Express cards. A 4 represents Visa cards. A 5 is a MasterCard and a 6 is a Discover card.

However, in some cases, the second digit may also represent the company. For example, 36 or 38 represent a Diners Club card, while 34 or 37 is an American Express card.

Since the industry identifier number is considered to be a part of the issuer identifier, the group consists of 6 digits. Now that we are done with the first group, let's get into the details of a card issuer identifier.

Apart from the bank identification number, certain financial institutions also use the remaining number of digits to classify the types of cards used.  Third and Fourth digit on an American Express card is used for personal or business cards. Digits 5 to 11 are the account number, while digits 12 to 14 represent the card number, attached to that account.

Beginning with digit 7 and running to 15, you have the bank account number. However, Visa card's account identification number may only run up to digit 12. The number of digits in this group may vary, since not all Visa cards contain the same number of digits to identify cards.

The final number on your credit card number serves as a check digit. This is a number calculated by applying specific formula to the rest of the digits, and is used as a fraud check.

So now that you know what your credit card number means, let's switch back to the card itself and look for more numbers. Apart from basic identifiers, credit cards usually have issue and expiry dates, given to the nearest month. Furthermore, a card may contain an extra set of digits to provide additional security. For example, the card security code is the last three or four digits printed or embossed on the signature strip at the back of the card.

Another extra feature that has been implemented on the cards is the security character. They are usually printed on the front of the card next to expiry date. Such characters represent 1 or 2 letters in italics and represent an issuing company.

All in all, understanding credit card numbers is not vital. However, you can apply your knowledge to double check cards when they are issued to you or to spot fake ones. Given the amount of identity theft cases in US, keep your credit card private and only use it only when dealing with legitimate merchants and organizations. If you are ever suspicious about the card, call your credit card issuer and request further assistance.

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