Looking up BINs

Even though a typical credit card number has 16 digits, not all of these represent a user's account number. The first digit is the major industry identifier (MII). An MII of 3 indicates travel and entertaiment, like an American Express card or Diner's Club card. An MII of 4 or 5 indicates banking and financial, like a Visa card or a Master Card. An MII of 7 indicates petroleum. If you have a gas station credit card, its first digit will probably be 7.

The first six digits form the issuer identification number (IIN). This is more commonly referred to as the bank identification number (BIN), although I understand that the term BIN is actually supposed to be obsolete. The digits after the IIN are the account number, except for the very last digit, which is actually a checksum for the other digits.

There's even a web site that has a free tool that you can use to find out what the IIN on your credit card means. In the free version of this tool you're limited to two lookups per day, but that's probably enought to do an interesting check or two.

Even though I knew that the first six digits of a credit card number are just the IIN, I found it a bit unsettling when I used this tool to look up what bank corresponds to the IIN on one of my credit cards.

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