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Consumer Research


PIN Blindness

PIN Blindness

By Stuart Evans, General Manager, ICLP 

Research by loyalty marketing agency  ICLP, has found that people over 18 have, on average, two different PIN numbers to remember and a further eight passwords and user names to memorise. Many, nearly 32%, have over
twice this many, with some individuals having up to 52 passwords.

Unfortunately, those 1,000 people researched could only remember under 60% of their passwords and PIN numbers unprompted - if they had only two to memorise – and this dropped significantly the more PIN numbers they had.  This raises a serious issue on security, as they had to revert to
looking the numbers up in their diaries or, in 28% of cases, in their over stuffed wallets.

The researched found that 10% of respondents kept their PIN numbers in the same place as their credit cards.  Of these, nearly 65% coded their PIN number, usually in reverse, making it slightly more difficult for a would-be fraudster to tap into their account.

Stuart Evans, General Manager of ICLP, says: “We encountered occasions where a respondent had actually written the PIN number on the signature slip, on credit card receipts, or most astonishingly on the reverse of the card because they were so often forgetting it.  This is a huge
security risk.”


The average number of PIN numbers is two; one usually for the debit card and the other one for the credit card.  However, 28% had over six PIN numbers, with eight percent ten or more.

Usually four digits long, that can mean a combination of up to 40 numbers.  With most people only able to remember number sequences of, on average, 7 this can pose serious problems for the user. 

This would explain another finding of the research that concluded that over 50% of people use the same PIN number for at least two cards.  In some cases every card had the same PIN number, again, another security risk.

Stuart Evans says: “There is a serious risk that the security of personal financial information could be compromised by the user employing the same digits across a number of services.  It is certainly best practice not to do so.  Even if the same four digits are used but in a different combination there is less likelihood of a breach of security on the cards.”


With the advent of the internet the growing number of passwords and user names people have to remember has grown significantly. 

People on average have to remember six of each – this does not include online banking.  So numerous are the codes that 63% of people expressed some degree of difficulty gaining acceptance onto their sites.

The most common malfunction was people mixing up user names from one site with the passwords from another.  However, 73% of those who responded cited the length of their password as the number one reason for confusion.  Most passwords had to be over 6 digits long, as opposed
to the simpler four for PIN numbers.

“Confusion became more difficult when numbers and letters were combined,” says Jo Parker of Teamspirit.  “Numbers tend to be a combination of birthdays and ages, but the research found that the use of letters was very random, and thus more easily forgotten.”

However, all is not lost, if one fails to remember one’s number.  The usual method is a prompt by the site.  The most usual prompts are:

Name of dog    21%
Favourite colour   17%
Mother’s maiden name   9%


The average number of user name and passwords that people had to remember was six – aside from online banking.

The most popular online sites where they were required were:

Hotmail/email accounts 76%
Supermarkets   39%
Magazine sites   21%
Loyalty programmes  15% 


Most common letters and number:

A 9.6%   1 17%
S 8.1%   0 16.5%
T 7.9%   2 14.2%
E 7.6%   8 13.9%
O 7.1%
D 6.8%
M 6.5%

Least common numbers and letters:

K 2.1%   7 5.9%  
Z 1.7%   5 4.8%
Q 1.6%   

1,000 people were interviewed for the survey.


Biometrics maybe the successor to PIN numbers, and is already a tried and tested method employed at airport immigration units in fast tracking individuals. Biometrics is the study of methods for uniquely recognizing humans based upon one or more intrinsic physical or behavioural traits.

Biometrics such as fingerprints, palm veins, eye retinas and irises could replace such prosaic methods as chip and pin and plastic cards.

However, using biometrics at airport immigration is one thing, but to transfer this method into everyday use is something that most consumers would associate with government level security or a Big Brother state rather than a way of paying for grocessaries at the supermarket.

Agreed, there are occasions when biometric technology is seen to be potentially acceptable, such as for enhanced National Security applications and in tackling credit card fraud.

Research by ICLP found that over 80% of those questioned said they would welcome the use of biometric identification in passports, whilst a slightly lower proportion felt the same way about protecting their credit cards, but were less likely to want that information tied to supermarket, petrol station and department store loyalty cards.

This corresponds to other findings in the survey that 76% of respondents trusted banks and financial institutions always" or "most of the time" as compared to 41% of respondents trusting retail stores "always" or "most of the time."

Another issue is security and the breach of it. Once both an individual's two eyes and ten fingers have been compromised by hackers the person is disenfranchised for life.

The robbery of a pin number is inconsequential compared to a glitch in a biometrics programme, as a PIN number can be cancelled and re-applied for. The most severe objection to biometrics as an authentication method is their reliance on a central database that contains the identifying graphic templates.

If such a database is compromised, then the biometrics of all users in the database is compromised for life.


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