Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Goldfish Guide to remembering your PIN

I recently got the PIN sorted out on my credit card; in the UK we have needed a Personal Identification Number to use a debit or credit card since February this year, but of course I haven’t bought anything in a real shop since then. I was thinking about this and my cognitive dysfunction and thought I would share my thoughts in case it might be useful to anyone else.

I should explain that there is very little information which I know at all times without having to think about it. For example, the way I remember my name is to picture the top left-hand corner of a sheet of lined A4 paper. The very first thing I think to do when presented with a sheet of paper is to write my name on it – something I would have been doing several times a day throughout my school career. I consider what it is I need to write in that corner and I remember what I am called. Which only takes a brief moment.

So obviously, I can't just glance at the PIN the bank sent me and hope to remember it next time I'm in a shop. But I've never had any problem with the PIN I use to get cash from the machine.

First off, you are much more likely to remember a PIN when you have chosen it yourself; if you have memory issues or dyslexia, there's probably not much point in trying to memorise whatever random numbers you were initially sent by the bank. Phone them up and pick your own number.

Some people have numbers they learnt as children which have no relevance today, but stick in the mind very easily; your parents' Co-Op number for example, or part of your first phone-number.

Failing that, the simplest method is to pick a significant year in the second millennium AD; 1066, 1492, 1603, 1812, 1984 etc. I imagine the bank would advise against using the year of your birth, marriage etc..

1812 and 1984 are particularly good because, in my mind at least, each is associated with a historic event, a book (War and Peace and 1984) and most crucially, a memorable piece of music (Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and David Bowie’s 1984). And yet others are unlikely to guess this, unless those dates have any particular personal significance.

The other, less easy, but more secure method is to chose a sequence of numbers which represent some simple maths like 3721 (3 x 7 = 21). Similarly 9218, 6488, 6713 and so on. This gives you something more to work with than just four random numbers, and if you forget one you can still work it out. For example, if all I can remember is 369_. Well, I know that three and six can’t be made into anything with a 9 in that position and I don’t have enough room for the 12 which would be the next number in that sequence. Thus, it must represent 36 and 9 and the only sum I’ve got room for is 36 / 9 = 4, so 3694.

For extra measure, do write it down, as part of a made-up phone number in an address book, or as a pretend price for something you have taken a note of. But make sure it isn’t too prominent or obvious wherever it is.


BloggingMone said...

I usually get myself pin numbers which make a pattern on the pin pad, such as 2486, which form a diamond or 2585, which is down the middle line and upwards again, or 1379 making a square. It works well for those having a more visual memory than a memory for numbers.

Mary said...

Train times can be another good one, if the number starts with 0, 1, or some 2's and **as long as you don't tell people that's what you do**.

Someone once told me that to remember his PIN he used the time of the train he was using to get to college, which was probably a bit of a silly thing to tell someone who would then, should they be so inclined, be able to find it out by looking at a timetable.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine who had her handbag stolen and the card used, found out the hard way that it is not a good idea to try to disguise PIN numbers among phone numbers and the like.

According to the police, thieves will just automatically go through every such number you have noted in case one of them is your PIN.

I must admit I do write down PIN numbers myself (I'm not saying where). My problem is that I now have several 4-figure numbers that look like thye must be PINs, but I have forgotten what they are for.

Anonymous said...

Happy fun head injury survivor here. It is almost impossible for me to remember numbers, and the fact that I invariably panic when asked to do so doesn't help. Shapes, as BloggingMone suggested, work really well for me, too.

Also, in the US, our PIN keypads have letters on them. Since I can remember words, that's what I do; I spell something, then tell the bank the corresponding numbers. If it has to be a four-number pin, I choose the first four letters of a word I will remember, but not a four-letter word (though I can think of a few very memorable ones which might work well -- not Sara, though).

Words noted in your belongings appear less obviously as passcodes to a stranger rifling your stuff, too.

Anonymous said...

No matter what system you use there are always those moments, usually at the head of a long impatient que when the magic pin goes on holiday from your broken brain and no matter what you do it won't come back, in a hurry.

Luckily I have a Supervisory caregiver who does all that crap for me, which means of course I don't have accounts or transactions soley my name.

Which causes amuzing chaos at times for beurocratic types.

Who also on several occaisions have disputed my need for supervisory caregiver.

Because according to them brain damage don't make any difference to ones abilites in life

And they have lost!

Tis an interesting life at times
Darn now I have to sign in and have a password! Hmmm minor trauma

Aha I knew there was a way to post comments without added confusion does it work?

Sally said...

It is not only us cogdysfuncks that have problems with entering pin numbers.

Last week I sat in my wheelchair at the top of a short flight of stairs in the shoe shop, and six steps and a few metres away the shop assistant picked up the pin key pad on its coil of springy cord and pulled it as far as she could towards me and then stopped and looked at me, questioningly.

Not wanting to engage in conversation with her about HER dilema, (in case I forgot the pin number I was repeating over and over in my head so I didn't forget it in the few seconds between looking it up in my filofax and tapping it in), I waited for her penny to drop and her brain to engage.

Anonymous said...

I have major memory problems, which thankfully are in an improvend state at the moment, but I had got to the point that I just stopped using my card because I was so embarassed about forgetting the PIN and about ringing to get it reset yet again. I used my credit card because I could remember my name to sign it. Anyway, one day, suffering from the effects of not being able to access my money, I was driven to ring both the banks I have accounts with. First I flicked through the booklet one of them sent about how to choose a safe PIN - basically this consisted of NOT doing anything that might be guessed - any familiar number, date etc or any kind of simple to moderate code or telling it to anyone or hiding it anywhere it might be found. SO, when I got to the point in the procedure of having my PIN reissued when they say "is there anything else we can help me with?". I asked for advice with this problem. Both operators (at each bank) went through a Monologue of "you could write it down and hide it, oh no, you're not allowed to do that, you could tell someone, oh no, you can't do that ....."and so on. One ending up having no idea to offer me at all, but the other told me that the bank service line was open 24hrs so I could ring whenever I needed to reset it! Very helful. (So convenient and dignified to ring up the bank while in the checkout queue). Anyway, this answer struck a note in my strange sense of humour so I told my brother next time I saw him. He kindly broke it to me that before I went into hospital the last time I gave him a list of my important numbers and information in case I was having trouble remembering later. It was in his safe if i needed any reminders! Which all goes to show that there is not much point using any reminder system if you can't even remember the reminder either.