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Primary Account Number (PAN)

In the context of payment card processing, the Primary Account Number (PAN) refers to the unique numeric identifier associated with a payment card, such as a credit card or debit card. It is the primary means of identifying the cardholder's account and is essential for processing payment transactions.

Here are some key aspects of the Primary Account Number (PAN):

1. Unique Identifier: The PAN is a sequence of numbers typically printed or embossed on the front of a payment card. It serves as a unique identifier for the cardholder's account within the payment card system.

2. Cardholder Account: The PAN is directly linked to the cardholder's account with the issuing financial institution. It enables the cardholder to make purchases, withdrawals, or other financial transactions associated with their account.

3. Card Brand Differentiation: The PAN includes a numeric prefix that corresponds to the card brand or payment network. For example, Visa cards start with the number 4, Mastercard cards start with 5, and American Express cards start with 3 or 4. This helps identify the card's issuing network or brand.

4. Length and Format: PANs vary in length depending on the card brand and issuer. For example, most PANs for major card brands consist of 16 digits, while American Express PANs have 15 digits. The format may also include spaces or groups of digits for readability or specific purposes.

5. Sensitive Data: The PAN is considered sensitive cardholder data, as it is a critical piece of information that, if compromised, can be used for fraudulent activities. Therefore, it is subject to strict security measures and protection, as outlined in the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

6. Security Measures: To safeguard PANs, payment card processing systems employ encryption and tokenization techniques. Encryption ensures that the PAN is transmitted securely during payment transactions, while tokenization replaces the PAN with a unique identifier (token) to minimize the risk associated with storing sensitive cardholder data.

7. Compliance Requirements: Organizations that handle PANs must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) to ensure the secure handling, storage, and transmission of this sensitive information. PCI DSS sets requirements for data protection, network security, access controls, and other measures to prevent unauthorized access to PANs.

The Primary Account Number (PAN) is a fundamental component of payment card processing, serving as a unique identifier for the cardholder's account. Safeguarding PANs is crucial to protect cardholder data and prevent fraud, and compliance with industry security standards is essential for organizations involved in payment card processing.

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